Older and wiser – how employees over 50 can benefit the workplace
In a culture that idolises youth, ageing is something we defy and deny. We’re told to fight the ageing process with supplements, medication, creams and surgery. Video calling and photo apps let us erase 10 years with a simple tap. We compliment the over 40s by telling them they ‘look good for their age’. Experience is overlooked in favour of innovation.
Small wonder perhaps that the working world is somewhat hostile to older workers. Yet there is a serious need for businesses to be more inclusive. The proportion of the working-age population between 50 and the state pension will increase from 26% in 2012 to 34% in 2050 – that’s an increase of over 5.5 million. The UK’s productivity and economic success will be increasingly tied to the productivity and success of an ageing workforce. So how can employers support older people returning and contributing to the workplace?
Kate Davis is our Head of Talent Acquisition. Here, she shares her story of re-entering the workforce in her mid-40s and her subsequent career progression.
“After a series of unfortunate events, I found myself living in spartan rented accommodation with three children and in dire need of a job. My husband’s business had collapsed, leaving us bankrupt and living apart – my husband had to work in Zimbabwe to earn a living. Returning to the workplace was daunting, not only was I ‘older’ and a sole parent, but I hadn’t worked for 10 years.
Back to the beginning
“I returned to the workplace with no technical skills whatsoever. I didn’t even know how to navigate my way around Outlook. However, I learnt, and I was given the opportunity to get onto the bottom rung of the working ladder in my mid 40’s.
“I had to start all over again at the very beginning and, in many cases, teach myself or enlist the help of younger people in the office. I wasn’t completely hopeless – I had a lot of transferrable skills and I was adaptable, open to change, resilient and incredibly flexible.
“10 years later, I am still adaptable, open to change, resilient and flexible. However, I am also technically and commercially capable as well! I have moved up the ladder and my job has become a career; one which I have no intention of leaving anytime soon.
The power of opportunity
“This has only been possible because I work for an organisation that recognised the need to provide me with the flexibility to do both my job and manage my family commitments. The hiring manager recognised my transferrable skills and the importance of creating multigenerational teams. I have learnt so much from and enjoy working with younger members of the team and for my part, I have imparted a lot of life advice to them. Finally, I felt comfortable being able to admit to not knowing how to do something. I’m sure that there have been a few wry smiles along the way, but I don’t mind because I am continually learning.
“Thousands of other hiring managers would have seen me as irrelevant, too old, technically incompetent and hard to fit into a team. My first line manager was a decade younger than me, but it’s one of the best professional relationships I’ve had.
“What did my employer get from me? 10 years on, I am loyal and appreciative of the opportunity I was given. What’s more, I’ve had no more than 10 days off sick in 10 years and that was mainly thanks to Covid.”
An opportunity for employers and employees
Kate’s progress in her role shouldn’t be an exception. Yet in the UK at least, it is. PwC’s Golden Age Index shows the UK ranks 21st out of 38 OECD countries in harnessing the power of older workers. With post-pandemic job vacancies stubbornly sitting above one million and a rising number of inactive workers aged 50+, this is a mismatch we need to address.
Age inclusivity is a long way from where it should be. Ill-founded beliefs abound – older workers are said to disrupt the team balance and reject being managed by younger people. They’re believed to be unable to adapt to tech and take too many days off sick. Yet Kate’s story rejects these stereotypes and demonstrates the potential for this often-overlooked group.
Find out more about the barriers and opportunities for older workers with these resources: