One in seven older workers thinks their age has cost them a job

11 Sep 2018 By Emily Burt

Employers urged to act on ‘disappointing’ figures, as candidates hide age in applications to avoid bias

As many as one in seven older workers thinks their age has cost them a job, a new survey from Business In The Community (BITC) and the Centre for Ageing Better UK has revealed. 

The Becoming an Age Friendly employer report included a YouGov poll of more than 1,100 employees over the age of 50, which found one in seven (14 per cent) believed they had been turned down for a job due to their age. 

In addition, almost one in five (18 per cent) older workers had hidden or considered hiding their age in job applications, with Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, describing the results as “extremely disappointing”. 

“It's concerning that despite employees believing their organisation has a policy to prevent age discrimination, most think this has made no difference in practice,” she told People Management

“Organisations need to adopt a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to age discrimination and bring their policies in this area to life by developing an age-positive culture.” 

Almost one in three workers in the UK are aged 50 and over, with Mercer’s Workforce Monitor forecasting one million more over-50s will enter the workforce between 2018 and 2025. 

However, almost half (46 per cent) of BITC survey respondents said they thought their age would be a disadvantage in applying for a job, and one in four (27 per cent) had been put off applying because the roles sounded as though they were aimed at younger workers. 

“Employers need to look at their entire HR processes, from recruitment to promotion and development opportunities – there is no magic wand to solving this problem,” warned Sophie Wingfield, head of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). 

“As well as being the right thing to do, candidate shortages across the UK mean old-fashioned and discriminatory attitudes make no business sense. Recruiters are uniquely placed to guide employers on how to attract and retain talent, as well as offer support to a diverse range of candidates, to ensure people have the opportunity to succeed regardless of their age.”

Andrew Willis, head of legal at CIPD HR-Inform also warned that filtering jobs by age was discriminatory under UK employment law. 

“A decision not to employ an older worker because of their age can lead to a costly tribunal claim and compensation award, if the employer is unable to evidence non-discriminatory reasons for the decision,” he said. 

“Making assumptions about what an older worker can or can’t do, for example in their use of certain types of technology or software, is also likely to be age discrimination.” 

While almost half (40 per cent) of employees over the age of 50 believe their workplace has a policy related to preventing age discrimination, 47 per cent said it had not made any difference to their treatment at work. 

In order to drive organisations towards more age-friendly cultures, the Centre for Ageing Better and BITC outlined five action points for employers, including a comprehensive flexible working provision, returner or re-entry plans for older workers, and an age-positive culture led by HR. 

“In order to reap the real benefits afforded by an age-diverse workforce, [employers] need to ensure that all age groups have access to recruitment, development and promotion opportunities and are motivated to continue to improve the contributions they make," McCartney said. 

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