The ageing workforce: helping people stay well and productive in work for longer.
With falling birth rates and longer life expectancy, the UK population, like that of many western countries, is ageing. That, combined with UK government plans to raise the state pension age to 68, means the demographics of our workforce are shifting with more people retiring later.
In 2022, there were more than 10.4 million older workers accounting for close to a third (32.6%) of the workforce. This includes more than 1.2 million workers over the age of 65 - a figure that has been growing and will continue to grow in the coming years. (CIPD 2022)
It has been illegal to discriminate by age in the UK since 2006 and, for more than a decade, the law has prevented employers from forcing workers to retire. But promoting age diversity in your workforce is not just about legality and ethics; older workers can bring years of experience, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities that can be invaluable to a company.
Living and working longer comes with its challenges though. The prevalence of ill-health and long-term conditions in this age group is naturally higher. Almost half of 50- to 64-year-olds in the UK have at least one long-term health condition. And health isn’t the only consideration; 52- to 64-year-olds are also more likely to be carers than any other age group. (ONS 2018)
Employers need to be realistic about the challenges older workers face and make the kind of adjustments that enable them to continue to be productive and keep well for longer.
Creating an inclusive workplace for a multigenerational workforce means understanding the changing needs of older workers, including addressing issues like menopause, combating ageism and balancing the needs and priorities of different generations.
Discrimination or prejudice against individuals based on their age, aka ageism, can be a significant barrier to inclusivity. It flows both ways – with younger staff as well as older employees at risk of being stereotyped and sidelined on account of their age.
However, there are plenty of interventions employers can consider to combat this issue.
Inclusive Hiring Practices: Including blind recruitment processes that focus on skills and qualifications rather than age, training hiring managers and HR staff to avoid age bias.
Diversity and Inclusion Training: Raise awareness of ageism and its impact.
Review and update company policies, communications, marketing and branding: Use age-neutral language and avoid age-related stereotypes.
Flexible Work Arrangements: Flexible work options, such as part-time work, remote work or flexible hours, to accommodate older workers' needs, including phased retirement.
Mentorship and Reverse Mentorship Programmes: Connect older employees with younger colleagues to foster knowledge exchange and combat stereotypes.
Upskilling opportunities: Provide resources for older employees to update their skills and stay relevant in their roles.
Health and Wellbeing Programmes: Address the unique health needs of older employees, including for example, menopause and MSK issues, promoting physical and mental wellbeing.
Promotion of Intergenerational Collaboration: Create opportunities for cross-generational collaboration and teamwork.
Audits and surveys: Identify areas that need improvement.
The Changing Needs of Older Workers and addressing Menopause
Older workers' needs evolve as they age and employers should be open to making reasonable accommodations for those experiencing any associated health condition, for example by carrying out a workstation assessment and providing any necessary ergonomic equipment or moderating workloads.
One aspect that has been overlooked historically is the impact of the menopause on older women – usually between 45 and 55 - in the workplace. Menopause can bring physical and emotional challenges that can have a massive impact on wellbeing and work performance, especially if the right support is not in place.
Alongside physical symptoms like hot flushes, irregular periods, aches and pains and sleep disturbances, menopause is known to impair memory and concentration in some women. This can cause mood swings or mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The impact is such that, if they don’t get support, women can falter in their careers at this point, lacking the confidence to seek promotion or even quitting altogether.
In fact, a 2019 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that three in five menopausal women were negatively affected at work (CIPD 2019), while research by The Fawcett Society found one in ten women who worked during the menopause have left a job due to their symptoms. (Bazeley, Marren, Shepherd 2022)
Employers can help with interventions ranging from practical adjustments, like providing a fan or a desk by a window, to mental health counselling, to offering flexible working arrangements to allow an employee to manage their health more effectively.
The stigma that still surrounds the menopause is a big part of the problem, and can be tackled with education for all colleagues, and a supportive work culture where open and honest conversations are encouraged. Developing a menopause policy can make a huge difference for colleagues, empowering them to request the accommodations they need.
But, despite menopause ultimately affecting 51% of the population, such a proactive approach is not yet commonplace. Eight out of ten women report that their employer hasn’t shared information, trained staff, or put in place a menopause absence policy. (Bazeley, Marren, Shepherd, 2022)
Workplace Design for a Multigenerational Workforce
A well-designed workplace can help bridge generational divides. Good design is better for everyone so consider the following design principles:
Flexible Workspaces: Provide options for various work styles, including quiet areas for focused tasks and collaborative spaces for teamwork.
Ergonomics: Ergonomic furniture and equipment should be adjustable to cater to the comfort and health of all employees, particularly older workers who may have specific needs.
Technology Accessibility: Ensure that technology is user-friendly and accessible to all. Offer training for employees who may be less tech-savvy.
Inclusive Amenities: Include amenities like quiet spaces and wellbeing areas to cater to the diverse needs of your workforce.
Managing a multigenerational workforce requires understanding, empathy, and adaptability. By continuing to value older workers and addressing their evolving needs with a workplace that caters to all age groups, business leaders can create an inclusive and thriving workplace culture where employees are empowered to succeed at all stages of their working lives.
Boileau, B and Cribb, J. (2022). Is worsening health leading to more older workers quitting work, driving up rates of economic inactivity? [Comment] Institute for Fiscal Studies. Available at: https://ifs.org.uk/articles/worsening-health-leading-more-older-workers-quitting-work-driving-rates-economic (accessed: 24 September 2023).
CIPD. (2019) Majority of working women experiencing the menopause say it has a negative impact on them at work| London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Available at https://www.cipd.org/uk/about/press-releases/menopause-at-work/ (accessed 29 September 2023).
CIPD. (2022) Understanding older workers: analysis and recommendations to support longer and more fulfilling working lives.London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Available at https://www.cipd.org/globalassets/media/knowledge/knowledge-hub/reports/understanding-older-workers-report_tcm18-107672.pdf (accessed 29 September 2023).
ONS. (2018) Living longer: Fitting it all in – working, caring and health in later life. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/ageing/articles/livinglongerhowourpopulationischangingandwhyitmatters/fittingitallinworkingcaringandhealthinlaterlife#:~:text=44%25%20of%20those%20aged%2050,without%20a%20health%20problem2. (accessed: 25September 2023).
A Bazeley, C Marren, and A Shepherd. (2022) Menopause and the Workplace. Fawcett Society. Available at https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=9672cf45-5f13-4b69-8882-1e5e643ac8a6 (accessed 29 September 2023).