The UK workforce is getting older, a lot older. It’s estimated that by 2020 half the working population will be over 50. Yet Talent Works has uncovered evidence which suggests employers aren’t doing enough to nurture and develop this increasingly fundamental section of the workforce.

Some of the figures showing the trend towards an older workforce are pretty staggering. Independent research shows that as many as one in five (22 per cent) UK workers say that they will definitely continue to work past official retirement age, and only 12 per cent of UK workers say they would not work past the age of 65. Not surprisingly perhaps, money worries dominate people’s reasons for choosing to stay on past retirement age. Nearly two out of three British workers expects to be working beyond 65 because they will not have enough money to retire. Another 13 per cent believes they will keep working to provide financial support for their children and four per cent say they will be helping grandchildren.

“The recent recession has no doubt taken a toll as employees accept that their current savings and pensions are unlikely to cover the cost of retirement, but improvements in health also mean that people are able to work longer,” said Paul Avis, marketing director of Canada Life Group. 

 “The younger generation have been particularly hard hit by the recession, and [are] wise to the fact that they will enjoy a less generous pension scheme and have a longer life expectancy than their parents or grandparents,” Paul Avis.

Not all older workers stay on through necessity. Just over one in four (26 per cent) of those who think they will work beyond 65 say they will do so because they enjoy working and are afraid of getting bored if they stop – that’s a significant proportion of older workers choosing to stay on because they genuinely want to carry on contributing.

But Talent Works’ Gen Up research, an extensive and ongoing programme of research into the multigenerational workplace, suggests employers are falling short when it comes to providing the training and development that will allow older workers to maximise their contribution to the workplace. This is despite older workers very much wanting to work hard and add value. Our research found that only 32 per cent of Baby Boomers feel well-equipped for the world of work.

Research by healthcare insurance provider AXA PPP found a similar story. Surveying 2000 employees and 250 employers, AXA found that only 25 per cent of over-50s had been on a training course in the last six months. 27 per said they hadn’t had the chance to learn new things or develop workplace skills at all in the last year. Only 15 per cent had discussed career progression with their line manager in the last six months.

James Freeston, sales and marketing director at AXA PPP Healthcare, says:

“It’s crucial for employers to have positive, constructive career discussions with all employees. Our research suggests that this is dropping-off for the over fifty age group and, as such, employers risk leaving this important segment of their workforce feeling under-appreciated and marginalised.”

A “reverse mentoring” programme is worthy of serious consideration. This is when younger workers share their knowledge and insight with older workers. When Talent Works asked Baby Boomers if they were comfortable having a younger boss, 68 per cent said they were very comfortable. Only three per cent said they were not at all comfortable. Older workers are clearly willing to accept there are things they can learn from younger colleagues. As such, reverse mentoring could be a highly effective way of plugging the skills gaps amongst older workers.

Also central to motivating and engaging older workers is effective communication. But Talent Works has found that older workers think employers are not communicating well enough. In fact, they think communication is managers’ main shortcoming. 46 per cent of Baby Boomers we surveyed said they wanted weekly updates but only 29 per cent said they received weekly updates. Only three per cent of Baby Boomers would appeal to their manager to resolve a conflict situation. Can we be sure this isn’t a communication issue?

Providing the right training and level of communication for older workers will do more than keep older workers motivated and engaged. Our research shows that older workers are very willing to work hard and add value. Baby Boomers are willing to go the extra mile and have a clear notion of what that entails. For a Baby Boomer, going the extra mile primarily means doing the best you can, working outside normal hours and giving more attention than usual to customer needs. A hard-working environment is among their most desired types of work environment. When asked to describe their ideal culture and atmosphere at work, six out of ten (62 per cent) Baby Boomers put hard working in their top three, and just short of one in three (32 per cent) ranked hard working their number one culture and atmosphere.

By catering to older workers’ training and development needs employers can capitalise on this work ethic and ensure older workers’ remain productive.

 “By maintaining a positive relationship with older workers, not only are employers more likely to keep them fully engaged in their roles, they can make the most of their experience and knowledge – ensuring they remain valued, motivated and productive throughout their working lives”, James Freeston, AXA PPP Healthcare.

Older workers – hardworking, keen to add value and willing to learn from younger colleagues – are becoming an increasingly significant proportion of the UK workforce but many report feeling ill-equipped for the world of work.  To attract, retain and make the most of the older workers who are set to become so fundamental to the UK workforce, employers must invest in more training and development specific to older workers, and embrace reverse mentoring – and do so quickly. Just four years from now half the working population will be over 50.

Information sources:

“UK employees expect to work past 65”, http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk. Jenny Roper, APRIL 23, 2015

Over 50s are being neglected in the workplace”,  Amie Filcher  Tuesday, April 28, 2015 www.hrreview.co.uk

“Developing talent in the over 50s – are we doing enough?”, www.trainingjournal.com, Lyndon Wingrove, 11 March 2015

“Pensions: two-thirds of UK workers expect to work past 65 because they can’t afford to retire.” Zlata Rodionova , 2 December 2015