Younger workers can benefit from strong work ethic of older generation, says Richard Shea of Futurestep

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Richard Shea

Recent research from Censuswide and Slater & Gordon has revealed that age discrimination in the work place is still rife, with 42 per cent of people over 40 believing they would be passed over for promotion due to their age. Not only that, but the survey of 2,000 workers over 40 years old, found that a further 36 per cent felt that they would be made redundant over a younger colleague. With figures from the Office for National Statistics showing that the over 50s form 27 per cent of the current workforce – with this group making up a third by 2020 – this is a vital group of talent employers need to exploit. Organisations need to utilise the benefits of an age group which has at least two decades worth of invaluable work experience under their belt. Not only can they bring experience and maturity with them, but also a strong work ethic which younger people can benefit from. And with some older staff having stayed with their employer for an extremely long length of time, employers need to make sure they are rewarding this loyalty and commitment whilst keeping staff motivated to perform.

The ‘third age’

Google’s Ray Kurzweil recently shared a number of global predictions in his new book, The Singularity is Near, regarding technological and societal developments we can expect to see over the next ten years. One of these was based on his concept of the ‘Rise of the Amortals’ which stated that despite the fact that our population continues to age, it is far from being a burden on the economy. Taking influence from Sarah Harper at the Oxford Institute of Ageing, Kurzweil believes that the retirement age is becoming meaningless as people have to work much longer and this later stage in life will become the exciting ‘third age’, transforming the way we think about our careers and planning our families.

Whilst 40 is relatively young in the workplace, older workers are increasingly looking to extend their working lives, with over 50 per cent of workers aged 55 plus planning to work beyond the state pension age. If the former group are already feeling insecure about their jobs them it is the job of the employer to ensure they are not only reassuring older talent that their job isn’t at risk, but also providing adequate career support that will encourage them to progress and flourish at the latter stage of their careers.

Developing staff

HR departments need to examine their employee development strategies – because it is here that the root of better engagement and productivity lies. Workers that are feeling threatened by younger colleagues or are worried about the future of their position at the company are being inadequately supported by their employer. Organisations need to implement effective career development strategies, to enhance current skills for upward mobility and improved performance.

As well as employers making a conscious effort to focus on the development of their staff, employees need to become au fait with identifying their own development needs, initiating the discussions with their senior team members and seeking out relevant opportunities. While is still the responsibility of the business to nurture their growth, the power of career development is in the hands of employees too and with the right tools they will have a degree of control of their own progression.

Career development is often overlooked and underfunded yet there are few better ways through which to ensure success than by empowering employees with the tools they need to achieve core business outcomes. In the long run, integrating a structure around staff engagement means employers will be able to maximise the skills and productivity contribution of all their workers whilst reducing costly staff turnover, translating to better business results.

Britain’s ageing workforce is leading to a shift in the traditional organisational structure of employment, but it is something that should be fully embraced – particularly as inter-generational working continues to become the norm. Employers that do respond appropriately will gain significant competitive advantage in terms of recruiting and retaining productive workers, because not only do those aged 40 plus have a broader range of skills and experience, which they are able to transfer across the workforce, but reduced staff turnover is critical in the current economic climate. Keeping employees at any age engaged is therefore an essential factor in driving growth and innovation within your business.

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