Opinion
1 Aug 2014 09:34am

Why age doesn't matter

David Cameron’s recent cabinet reshuffle was the catalyst for many discussions about the place of older employees in the workplace

Is the UK employment landscape undergoing a demographic shift? Is it a case of out with the old and in with the young? Should older workers consider their positions? Thankfully, Doyle Clayton’s recent Age Before Beauty? report suggests the contrary, showing that older employees remain valued assets in their companies, with expertise appreciated by colleagues of all ages.

Here are some thoughts on how organisations can ensure they properly value older employees:

EXPERIENCE IS EVERYTHING

Older workers are by definition likely to have more experience. Employers should ensure they recognise their experience and expertise and make full use of it. Newer employees can learn a lot from their older colleagues.

Doyle Clayton’s research, which involved over 1,000 interviews conducted across a broad age, sex and business range, found that 66% of participants believe that people in their 60s are just as valuable as team members, compared to younger colleagues. Also, 21% of those surveyed believe that people in their 60s are more effective as team members.

Why not set up a mentoring scheme? Younger workers will often be enthusiastic to learn from their peers and will be glad of the opportunity to work closely with more experienced colleagues.

TRAINING IN TECHNOLOGY

We live in a fast-paced and ever more technologically dependent society. Whilst younger workers will tend to be technologically fluent, some older employees may not be as familiar with the latest software and hardware in today’s technological world of tablets and social media.

Employers should ensure that all staff, regardless of age, are up to date and comfortable with the workplace requirements of modern technology. This could involve offering regular training sessions, which would counter the risk of some older employees feeling lost. Investing time and money in training will be of great advantage to the whole team or organisation as employees will have broader skill sets, increased confidence and will feel more valued by your business.

Do bear in mind that these refresher courses could also be of advantage to younger employees; do not restrict them to older colleagues. Discrimination because of age is unlawful, whether directed at older or younger individuals.

GOING FOR GOLD

It is important that older workers feel able to apply for promotions and that employers consider all employees equally for these, irrespective of age.

Younger workers often confidently express their expectations and requirements in a way that older employees may not. Bridging the generation gap when it comes to salary increases and potential promotions is vital. More mature colleagues should feel just as able to approach their employers to discuss raises or promotions as younger colleagues.

Accordingly, employers should encourage older workers to make the most of opportunities in the workplace to the same extent as their younger colleagues. This could involve publishing promotion opportunities on the company intranet so they are widely visible, or, if appropriate approaching the topic with older colleagues during appraisals or one to ones.

THE SOCIAL SIDE

A strong team spirit is key in any organisation. In order for staff to work in an effective, efficient and motivated manner, they have to feel that they are an integral part of their team, no matter what their age.

These positive relationships are well promoted by social events. From away days to team building exercises, office drinks to team meals, social occasions help to strengthen team spirit. Colleagues will tend to regard each other more positively, feel more appreciated and feel a strong sense of team within the workplace.

Ensure you take everyone’s needs into account when organising social events or training in order to foster a stimulating, positive and dynamic environment.

So, with so much to gain from older colleagues, why do some businesses still struggle with age discrimination?

Doyle Clayton's report shows that age discrimination is most likely to be an issue in medium-sized enterprises.

Perhaps this is not so surprising; they may not have the benefit of a dedicated HR function, and managers may be dealing with a business which has grown substantially year on year, leaving them with ever more responsibilities and little time to address HR matters – even though people are the key to any business’s success. 

Analysis shows that micro-businesses are relatively unaffected by age discrimination. The owners of these companies are likely to be hands-on managers who are heavily invested in the success of the business. Their decisions may be relatively unclouded by prejudice and motivated by results, at least partly driven by strong team spirit.

According to the report, this is also the case for very large organisations, which have the advantage of well-resourced HR departments driving education, systems, processes, training and support.

All businesses, whatever their size, would be well advised to prioritise diversity awareness and take any necessary action to reduce the risk of discriminatory practices creeping in. A liability averted is a problem solved – and businesses with motivated and happy employees, in the end, are the ones that are most likely to succeed.


Jessica Corsi is a partner and employment law specialist at Doyle Clayton, the UK’s largest employment law firm


 

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