6 ways to effectively support an aging workforce

John McNamara
Published on 22nd June 2020
3 min read

One in seven workers today are over the age of 65, and that’s in the UK alone. In the US, by 2026 the number of employees over the age of 55 is predicted to make up almost a quarter of the workforce.​

People are living longer, but they’re also working longer – as life expectancy rises, increasingly more older generations are staying in the workforce. 

Beyond the financial reasons, a recent study by RAND has shown that many people are working past the traditional retirement age for all the added value and benefits working brings, such as the sense of accomplishment, and the social interaction advantages.  

While this may present challenges, it also creates opportunities. Older workers can bring experience and wisdom to the workplace, and studies have demonstrated that older workers tend to be more engaged at work – improving business outcomes, such as productivity.

Here’s six ways HR and People teams can ensure they’re supporting an aging workforce and creating great workforce experiences for them.

1. Stay clear of stereotypes

Pigeonholing older workers as employees who aren’t great at technology, or any other sweeping stereotypes, is dangerous and wrong. These stereotypes are little more than generalizations and are not conducive to helping people to work together.

Stress the importance to managers of moving beyond labels and challenge your workforce when you see stereotyping. Mixed aged teams bring a wealth of opportunity to any business – fresh thinking coupled with experience can produce highly effective teams and work.

2. Know your workforce

It is crucial that HR and People teams understand the demographics within your organization. Make use of data and analytics to gauge insight from your workforce, and understand how your workforce is split, and identify trends within this.

If your company runs regular pulse surveys and continuous employee feedback, add in questions to find out what their preferred methods of communication are, or what they envisage their career trajectory being in the company.

3. Understand the needs of older workers

Every employee will have different needs and expectations from their employer, but there may be some patterns amongst generations.

Tailored communications across your workforce is vital – including amongst different generations, if this is what the data is telling you is needed.

Find out: What does a great workforce experience look like for them? What would retain them? What skills or training do they need? What level of support are they looking for?

4. Make sure policies around health, wellbeing, and care are always up-to-date  ​

Older employees are much more susceptible to health problems and 75% of workers over 50 have a chronic illness. 

HR and People teams need to adjust their health and wellbeing policies to accommodate these potential health problems and keep these employees in the workforce. They should also assess their business accessibility for employees affected by illnesses associated with age that could result in mobility problems or similar challenges.

This could mean overhauling health insurance plans and disability policies, offering robust retirement plans, providing ergonomic tools to reduce physical strain, or extending options around paid family leave. Grandparental leave, for example, is one way that businesses are responding to the challenges that older workers experience.

5. Offer flexible hours and competitive wages 

Flexible working is an important part of creating a better workforce experience for older employees, with 78% of workers over 50 saying that they want more flexible working hours.

There are several ways that businesses can offer flexibility. Given the number of retirement pathways, employers can also consider options like allowing full-time employees to slowly phase to part-time hours over several years, hiring retirees for short-term projects, offering part-time roles for semi-retirees, offering seasonal positions, or implementing job-sharing opportunities for employees. ​

6. Address and change cultural bias​

Many older employees believe that biases within the workplace affect how they’re seen and treated. For example, employees report subtle discrimination around screening practices, such as the inability to input their birthdate into a job application because the earlier years that are applicable to them aren’t available for selection. Processes like that can make older workers feel unwelcome and overlooked. 

HR and People teams will need to work with their workforce to address any existing biases that may lead to exclusion or discrimination and change their company’s culture in order to create a better working environment for older employees that celebrates them and their presence.

This should come in the form of ongoing learning and development about addressing bias and remaining inclusive, which will effectively result in a more welcoming environment for everyone.

The value of an aging workforce

An aging workforce can bring tremendous value to businesses and employees alike – and by preparing for it, leaders are setting themselves and their teams up for success.

Today’s multi-generational workforce is more diverse than ever. Download our research report 17-70: Managing to multi-generational workforce today, to discover how HR and People teams are responding.

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