Workplace mental health | How to support better work, wealth and wellbeing for older workers

How to support better work, wealth and wellbeing for older workers

By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) represents a rapidly growing area, but one aspect that hasn’t received anywhere near as much attention as others is that of age; particularly older workers.

By 2025, estimates suggest that around 25% of workers in the UK will be over the age of 55. And with reports suggesting this age group contributed heavily to the number of ‘economically inactive’ following the pandemic, there’s a strong case for focusing here.

As part of our webinar series for HR and Line Managers, we recently interviewed John Kiernan, Employer Engagement and Network Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better. This UK charity worked in partnership with the Institute for Employment Studies to produce a report looking at how the pandemic changed work for people with health conditions.

Together, they found that the pandemic not only widened the disability employment gap and the age employment gap, but also the gap between those in good and bad employment. In this context, good or bad refers to employers who are supportive – or not – of workers’ health. The joint report calls on government to ensure better support for the specific needs of disabled over 50s, including increasing the rate of Statutory Sick Pay for all workers in line with European averages.

And it calls on employers to create supportive cultures and management practices, to confront ageism and age-bias in recruitment processes and to take explicit action to support the mental health of employees – that includes ensuring opportunities for social interaction (if wanted).

Here are some of the highlights from the webinar.

Tracey: What are the common hurdles that over 50s employees face?

John: Our research shows that approximately 1 in 3 (29%) workers aged 50 to 70 who left work during the pandemic said they experienced age discrimination when looking for work. We believe that age bias really shuts skilled workers out of jobs and shrinks confidence in the process. This is a problem that employers could and should help minimise.

Lack of work not only results in reduced earnings – which some can afford and some certainly can’t – but it can also have an effect on health; especially mental health. When you ask retired people what they miss most about work, one of the top answers is always the social connections.

At the Centre for Ageing Better, we’re great believers in the ability of work to positively impact health and wellbeing.

Tracey: To what extent do you think employers are aware of these kinds of issues? And what’s the appetite for doing something about them?

John: We carried out a survey of over 2,000 UK employers and found that they’re not capitalising on the opportunities afforded by a multigenerational workforce, in terms of skills, knowledge, productivity and innovation.

Around half of employers do not have DEI policies targeting age. And only 1 in 6 were very likely to develop age friendly practices over the next year. What’s more, while 42% of employers think that age discrimination is more likely to happen to older workers than younger workers in their industry, only 26% think the same when it comes to their own organisation.

Age really hasn’t been as deeply addressed as the other protected characteristics included under the auspices of the Equality Act 2010.

With these stats in mind, I think those organisations that do get on top of this, will be a step ahead of their competitors. The OECD did a report some years ago that showed that an organisation with 10% higher share of older workers than the average firm, experienced productivity increases of 1.1%. It sounds small, but when you think about that figure, it could equate to an awful lot of financial benefit.

Tracey: Tell me about the Age-Friendly Employer Pledge that the Centre for Ageing Better launched late last year. What has the response from employers been like? And what are the most popular requests for support?

John: Yes, this is a free pledge that any organisation in the UK can sign up to. It’s for those employers who recognise the importance and value of older workers. Employers commit to improving work for people in their 50s and 60s and taking the necessary actions to help them flourish in a multigenerational workforce.

As part of the pledge, employers commit to identifying a senior sponsor for age-inclusion in their workforce, and publicly state their commitment to the pledge. Also, ensure that age is specifically named within their DEI policies. And take action to improve the recruitment, retention and development of workers over 50 from one of the following areas:

  • create an age-friendly culture

  • hire age-positively

  • be flexible about flexible working

  • encourage career development at all ages

  • ensure everyone has the health support they need

It’s not just about signing up to a pledge though, it’s about being part of a network; a peer learning network. Over 180 organisations have joined the pledge since last December.

Tracey: Finally, this is a huge topic I know, but I wonder if you can provide a handful of top takeaways on how employers can get more proactive on over 50s wellbeing?

John: First things first, sign up to the pledge of course! Also, look carefully at your own organisation’s data to find out where the issues are. Every organisation is different, especially in terms of culture. A number of organisations have told me that after delving into the data, they find that perception doesn’t live up to reality. They’re probably not getting enough over 50s applying for jobs. They’re probably not even seeing the job ads because they’re not appearing in the right places. Then the language used isn’t as age friendly as they thought it was. It needs to include information on flexible working options, including job shares and making it clear that the organisation is willing to make things work.

Also, consider making use of midlife MOTs, or reviews. Ensure the focus of this is balanced across work, wealth and wellbeing. Identify your over 50s and be proactive; say you’d like to talk about what their plans are and help them develop a personal action plan. In this way, employers can help their older employees feel that that the organisation is supportive of them; and not only in a work sense, but also in the sense of investigating any interventions needed at an early stage. In other words, helping put in place measures to improve their post-retirement lifestyle and wellbeing.

The kind of things that could be considered as part of this might be anything from career development, mentoring and consultancy to phased retirement. The potential need for reasonable adjustments should also be considered as part of this. This might involve small things such as screen size, adjustable chair, having sufficient support for menopause or for any musculoskeletal issues.

The Centre for Ageing Better has developed a new guide to minimising age bias in the recruitment process, working with employers, recruiters, older workers and The Behavioural Insights Team. An updated version of their Good Recruitment for Older Workers (GROW) guide will be available at the Ageing Better website from September 5.

*To access a free recording of the full 30-min webinar ‘The case for putting the terms ‘longevity’ and ‘age’ into your wellbeing strategy’, please email [email protected].

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All information contained herein represents the views and opinions of the author as at the date of writing and is provided for general information only. Nothing herein constitutes or is intended to constitute financial or other form of advice and no individual should rely upon the information provided in making a specific investment decision without first seeking independent professional advice.

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