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Unlocking the potential of the silver workforce 

More than half of the UK workforce will be 50 years old or above by 2035. That compares to just over a third in 2019. This demographic shift poses significant challenges for the labour market and businesses.

Currently 1.3 million workers between 50 and 64 years old cannot work because of chronic illness according to Broadstone research. That accounts for more than half of the people out of the workforce due to ill-health. Addressing the needs of this ageing workforce and finding solutions to support their wellbeing is crucial for the future. 

The Office of Budget Responsibility estimated this summer that £6.8 billion has been added to the annual welfare bill since the Covid-19 crisis because of the increase in working-age inactivity due to long-term sickness and rising ill-health among those in work.

Rachel Suff, senior wellbeing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said: “With people living and working longer, more are likely to develop a disability or long-term health condition. It’s therefore essential that employers provide effective health and wellbeing support, as well as reasonable adjustments, for people to remain in work.”

Suff said that businesses could offer more flexibility to those over 50 years old “whether it’s to manage health symptoms, or pursue interests outside work, or just as part of a phased approach to retirement”.

Some companies are already investing more in older employees, such as B&Q, the DIY chain. Andy Moat, people director at B&Q, said that in-store roles can be ideal for those looking for something new later in life, with flexible working hours and the opportunity to upskill through an apprenticeship programme.   

“Older employees, thanks to their broader life experiences, can also provide mentorship to younger colleagues who are new to the workforce, contributing to their development,” he said.

“We currently have apprentices aged from 17 to 70 years, gaining new knowledge and skills to help develop their careers, no matter what their age, and at the same rate of pay as others doing their role.”

Upcoming changes on flexible working will include the right to request flexible working from day one of employment.  Chris Garner, the managing director of Avensure, which provides help on employment law for small and medium-sized businesses, said that firms can get older workers back in the workforce by  “using hybrid working where possible and being accommodating of requests for time off for things like medical appointments”. He also said that businesses can provide “occupational health support, employee assistance programmes and being empathetic to the changing needs of employees as they get older”.

However, more than 1 in 10 adults in the UK say that they think their age has been a factor in not getting jobs they’ve applied for, according to a survey by Ciphr, the HR group. Around 1 in 20 say that they’ve experienced workplace discrimination based on their age. 

Steve Butler, chief executive at Punter Southall Aspire, the financial consultancy group, said that businesses will need to hire more older workers as the population ages. “These stereotypes are in direct conflict with business needs,” he said. “Life expectancy is rising, while the number of younger people entering the workplace is shrinking.”

Tracy Riddell, senior programme manager for age-friendly employment at the Centre for Ageing Better said an inclusive culture is “especially important” when considering the stigma that may be associated with “age-related health conditions” and the anxiety older workers may feel in disclosing this with their manager.

“Clear messages of support from senior management and support to line management that enables them to have open, productive conversations around health support needs and adjustments, is key,” she said.

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