How HR Can Help Attract Over-50s Back into the Workplace

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There are more mature people out of the workforce than ever before, according to the latest figures from the Department of Work and Pensions. The number of over-50s that are not actively seeking work, or are long-term unemployed has risen exponentially since the pandemic with 3.5 million people of pre-retirement age out of the UK’s labour force – an increase of 320,000 on pre-Covid-19 figures.

Why are so many over-50s unemployed?

A report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that increasing work inactivity has been a growing trend over the last few decades, with many people in this age demographic choosing to stop working for a variety of reasons; from early retirement, caring responsibilities and health issues to lifestyle changes and a need for greater flexibility or work-from-home options.

For a generation of long-term unemployed – many of whom are claiming benefits, it is argued that a stable income will not only help plug the gaps left by the flood of job quitters and the Great Resignation, but it will encourage wellbeing, improve mental health and curb a trend that is undoubtedly impacting the British economy. Add to this the increased cost of living and many older workers now have little choice but to return to work.

In March 2022 the government released a £22 million package of support as part of the Way to Work jobs push which was launched last January in response to the labour shortage with the aim of getting half a million people back to work within six months. This support forms part of a wider multi-billion-pound initiative – the Restart Scheme – the government’s unemployment drive aimed at getting over-50s back into meaningful employment which has been paired with a 50% rise in the annual tax-free allowance from £40,000 to £60,000.

Feeling ‘culturally unfit’ and lacking critical skills

Recent research from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD), Centre for Ageing Better and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) suggests that those over 50 feel that age discrimination in the workplace is a very real issue and many are treated as both unskilled and culturally unfit. However, along with the sluggish labour market, another key concern for both the government and organisations is the loss of knowledge transfer that this age demographic has – no mature workers means no skills are being passed on to the next generations.

What are the benefits of having older workers?

There are plenty of reasons that older workers make great employees. The CIPD’s Understanding Older Workers report highlights that they are more likely to have a strong work ethic, be loyal to their employer, far less likely to call in sick and are motivated by community and mission as opposed to perks and salary. The benefit of life experience as a commodity is also something that employers need to consider as they will have skills that younger workers might lack.

Here are some questions that HR can ask itself which might help encourage applications from this underutilised demographic.

  1. How inclusive are your comms?

Mature workers are often overlooked when it comes to the communications used in any interactions with recruiters. Using tech-babble and overly on-trend ‘Millennial speak’ in adverts and not considering accessibility can quickly put off a mature jobseeker, making them think that they are just not a fit for the job before they’ve even considered the skills and requirements. Keep things simple and use recruitment software to make the process as free from unconscious bias as possible.

Another element is the CV. Asking older workers for their entire work history is impractical for someone with 30 years or more of experience. Instead ask applicants for relevant skills, recent work history, and additional information that might be valuable, and overlook any gaps in their CVs that might be due to raising children or providing eldercare.

  1. Where are you posting your job vacancies?

You’ve written the job description, chosen inclusive language and optimised accessibility but where are you posting it? Most job seekers these days automatically look for vacancies on social media platforms like LinkedIn but many over-50s may be unfamiliar with these when looking for open positions, especially those people who are not from a professional background. Using advertising in targeted print media and even approaching the local job centre for assistance is an approach worth considering to ensure all bases are covered.

  1. Are you offering the right benefits and perks?

Over 50s might not be so swayed by the offer of discounted beauty products, treat boxes and gym memberships. A health cash plan or private medical insurance might be far more desirable. In fact, financial incentives might not be the biggest draw for a more mature employee base. Instead, a better work-life balance is cited as one of the most persuasive reasons for taking a job. This can also mean offering flexible hours as a benefit which can be worked around caring duties for children or even grandchildren, and older relatives or simply helping them to strike a better work/life balance.

  1. What training will they need?

There will always be top-up training needed for employees returning to the workforce. Things may have progressed in terms of standard HR policies and compliance but there is a slew of government-funded courses and ‘Returnership’ apprenticeships aimed at the over-50s.

‘Midlife’ MOTs are also being offered currently by the government to help get mature workers up skilled to match the demands of modern organisations. Digital literacy is probably the most likely requirement but not all over-50s are going to need re-training. Initial assessment of skills gaps will be paramount.

  1. Have you tried reverse mentoring?

Many over-50s re-entering the job market and joining your organisation will immediately be working with multi-generational colleagues. This provides an opportunity for reverse mentoring where the younger employees can teach those who might need brushing up on their digital skills or even need a complete beginners’ course in subjects like technology and social media. There will always be skills that the older employees have that might be useful for younger staff to learn. Remind them of this to show them that their experience is valued.

Build confidence and highlight of the benefits of working

HR is well-placed to set over-50s on the pathway to success. Many returners will lack confidence in their skills, their ability to collaborate and to feel part of the organisation. HR will need to build their self-belief and remind them that they are valuable and worthy members of the workforce. Ensuring their needs are met, providing the right support and training, offering flexible options to help them manage external commitments and arranging employee benefits that are relevant and helpful will undoubtedly help the transition from unemployed to successful and thriving employee.