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Balancing age (and wisdom) in the team by Brian Chernett

Brian Chernett

Brian Chernett

The age profile of the workforce is changing. An article in the Guardian on Thursday 16 September notes that the “latest estimates that a third of UK workers will be over 50 in 2020”.

A recent survey by the CIPD and the CMI called “Managing an Ageing Workforce” produced some interesting statistics on attitudes to an ageing workforce.
• only 14% of UK managers consider their organisation well-prepared to cope with the demands of an increasingly older workforce
• 34% of managers claim the board level recognition of ageing workforce issues is non-existent
• 43% are not well informed about their organisation’s retirement policies
• 40% have experienced age discrimination at some stage in their careers
It is clear to me that we need to consider the benefits as well as the disadvantages of having older people in the workforce mix.

Many workers will be affected over the next few years by the recession, austerity measures to reduce the deficit and by the need to extend retirement and pension ages, perhaps moving towards 70 in time. Many individual pension funds are also under invested. When the original pension ages were set, people of those ages had far less life expectancy and poorer health, so it is to be expected that many people in their 60s and 70s still wish to work. Given the state of pension provision many will also need to work.

From April 2011 workers coming up to the retirement age of 65 have the choice to continue working. Steve Williams head of quality services at ACAS has been quoted as saying “employers should have a performance management systems in place to ensure older workers have objectives and the opportunity to identify training needs”

In early October, the Daily Telegraph noted that the number of over 50s taking up apprenticeships has more than doubled in two years. There are now more than 400 people in their 60s carrying out apprenticeships and 13 in their 70s with the oldest apprentice in Britain aged 76.

I’ve talked about the advantages of employing older workers in a number of articles and also in my book. I am in my 70s and currently enjoying one of the most productive periods of my career. Using my knowledge, skill and experience I am able to help senior managers cope with the pressures and find the pleasures of running small, medium and large businesses. There are many fit, intelligent and willing people being put onto the scrapheap simply because companies cannot see that older workers will contribute to their success.

There is a danger that some businesses will use the twin reasons of the change in the default retirement age and the need to cut costs to remove workers over the age of 65 from their organisation before April next year.

In my view, this would be a criminal waste of good, useful and knowledgeable resource.

The CIPD/CMI report raises a number of important issues
• businesses need to be well prepared to cope with the issues created by employing older workers
• HR departments have a key role to play in driving through the necessary changes organisations need to take in order to adapt
• Line managers are regarded as highly influential in the implementation of its organisational policies, yet also somewhat resistant to change
• Only 7% of organisations offer training to line managers on managing older workers yet 47% of respondents think such training is needed
• Some 59% think that young managers find it hard to manage older workers (and older workers may also need help in being managed by younger people)

Just as with other areas of discrimination – gender, disability, race, religion – age should no longer be an issue in the recruitment and retention of good people within an organisation. It is good to hear that apprenticeships are growing, it would be even better to see more organisations like B&Q (who employ the oldest apprentice in the UK) actively seeking to employ older workers.

A few role models in high profile business will make a significant difference.

Brian Chernett is founder of The Academy for Chief Executives (ACE) – He has 43 years’ experience as managing director of private and public companies, including subsidiaries of Booker Bros McConnell, the Landmark Group, and several other major companies. Find out more at
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