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Older people in the workplace Part 2

Updated: Feb 16

Last month, we took a look at the implications of increasing numbers of older people in the workplace.

The figures make for interesting reading for any employer; government statistics suggest that whilst the over-50s currently make up 27% of the workforce, this will likely rise to 33% by 2020. It’s also believed that half of this group plan to continue to work after they reach the state pension age.

Employers need to look at their workforce’s needs and plan around them. By way of example, the utility company Centrica has instituted a programme to respond to the needs of older employees, including measures for those with carer responsibilities, up to a month’s paid leave, flexible working hours, a mentoring scheme, awareness training for line managers and a carers’ support network that now includes nearly three percent of the entire workforce. The company also provides information on the assistance and support that can be given by external organisations.

It’s believed that this level of support has saved the company about £4.5 million in costs that can be linked to absence. In addition, the measures have reduced the need to recruit replacement staff and this has saved around £2 million on recruitment.

Not all employers have the resources available to Centrica but there are measures that can be put in place regardless of the size of the employer that can yield benefits both for the business and those who work there.

  • Employers should establish a routine for carrying out risk assessments, rather than just doing so when an employee reaches a particular age.

  • They should look at the activities that the job involves and make modifications to the workplace if it is considered necessary.

  • Rather than making the adjustments on the basis of the age of the employee, they should relate to the needs of the individual and the business.

  • If an employee is capable of staying in the job longer with the aid of task modification, any retraining that is required should be provided.

  • If staff need to change work hours and job content in order to continue in employment, they should be allowed to do so.

  • Employer should not base their decisions on the suitability of jobs for older workers on assumptions about their age but on capability and objective risks.

  • Regular health checks should be provided or, if this is not possible, staff should be encouraged to attend a healthcare provider. If checks are provided, this should be on a universal basis rather than connected to age.

  • Activities and initiatives that address health and fitness should be considered by employees.

  • The duties imposed on employers by such legislation as the Equality Act or flexible working regulations may include the need to make adjustments that will assist an employee cope with a health issue or the provision of flexible working. Both these are matters that affect older workers in greater numbers than their younger colleagues.

  • Rather than reviewing a risk assessment when a worker reaches a particular age, it should be carried out when there is a significant change in either the work environment or the job itself.

  • Work stations and work activities need to be regularly reviewed to ensure that the needs of individual workers are met. These reviews should take into account the employee’s physical capabilities and limitations – everyone is different, after all.

  • Depending on the results of the review, alterations and modifications may need to be made in order to avoid repetitive actions such as twisting, stretching or bending.

  • If a system of hot desking or shared equipment is in place, the employer should make sure that furniture or equipment involved is fully adjustable and that training is provided to the staff who may be affected.

  • Older employees, as we have discussed in the first part of this article, have varied commitments and these may not necessarily be catered for by the traditional working time model. Employers should therefore consider a more flexible approach to working hours, including part-time working, flexitime and home working.

  • Ensure that training programmes are designed and instituted to help older workers who need to learn new skills and processes. When designing these programmes, employers (or the providers they have used to deliver the training) should bear in mind that older employees may learn at a different pace or in a different way from younger members of staff. Practical or self-paced training be a better option.

  • Take advantage of the experience that older workers can bring to the workplace by instituting a mentoring scheme. This can assist in developing younger workers or facilitate the training of other older employees.

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