Don't write off older workers

If your business is struggling to find the right candidates for the right roles, don’t write off older workers. It’s time to get ‘age-smart’ and rethink what a ‘good’ candidate looks like.

This means not writing off older workers, and instead recognising the unique value and wisdom they bring to the workplace, and putting in policies and practices to attract and retain them.

Older workers are likely to be a goldmine of knowledge, skills and experience that could be incredibly beneficial to your company. They may also have access to a network of useful business contacts – the sorts of relationships that can only be built over time. And, if you look after them right, there’s more chance they’ll stay put rather than job hopping.

So it makes sense to widen your recruitment net to capture this untapped resource, whilst also thinking about how you can retain the late-career workers you already employ – particularly since the UK no longer has an official retirement age, and we can effectively work for as long as we want.

But who are these hidden gems? And what questions should you be asking when planning an age-smart recruitment and retention strategy?

The unretired

Retirement is in a state of flux. The post-pandemic job market has seen a sharp rise in the number of workers retiring early, leaving big gaps in the workforce. At the same time, financial pressures caused by the cost-of-living crisis have pushed many people to ‘unretire’, leading to an increase in older workers re-entering the job market.

But many of these ‘unretired’ will feel anxious and unconfident about returning to the workforce – they may worry they’ll be seen as too old or behind the times. They might question what they have to offer, or whether they’ll be treated with respect.

What can you do to ease these concerns? And how can you help them to regain their confidence, boost their self-esteem, and recognise their strengths and value?

To get more insight into why people are choosing to return to work, take a look at this recent article from The Guardian, which asks four people to share their experiences.

The under-your-noses

What about the current talent you already employ who may be thinking about retiring? Perhaps they’re feeling bored or demotivated, and no longer have any enthusiasm for the job. Or maybe they’re feeling burnt out, forgotten or unappreciated.

How can you change their minds and encourage them to stay? What can you do to make them feel re-energised and motivated about their work, or recognised and valued?

The undecided

Those who lose their job at a late stage of their career may be weighing up whether it’s worth trying to get another job, or if they should just call it quits.

This was the dilemma faced by a former client of mine, who got in touch recently after being made redundant. John, who’s 65, wasn’t keen on going back into full-time work – he wanted more time to do the things he enjoys and that are important to him – but he was also not ready for, in his own words, ‘the knackers’.

What recruitment and retention strategies could you put in place to attract and support the other ‘Johns’ out there? How could you encourage them to continue working, and help them to achieve the work-life balance they want?

To help answer these questions, here are my 7 tips for making your business age-smart

Teach new tricks

Phoenix Insights, a think tank that addresses the challenges posed by living for longer, has called on businesses to recognise the value that mid- to late-career workers bring to the workplace.

It’s never too late to learn something new – and investing in training and development for older workers is an easy win. Not only is it likely to increase their productivity, motivation and job satisfaction, you’re sending the message that they’re a valued and respected member of the team.

Some of their recommendations include supporting lifelong learning by offering training and development opportunities, as well as improved access to independent careers advice, and assurances of a job or career progression for those who retrain. 

Share and share alike

Think about how older workers can share their knowledge, skills and experience with younger or newer colleagues – or vice versa.

Perhaps they could devise a training programme to teach others what they know. Setting up mentoring or ‘reverse mentoring’ programmes is a great idea, and will foster the sort of multigenerational teamworking that has proved beneficial for many businesses.

Let them have their cake – and eat it

For many of us, work brings meaning to our lives – a sense of identity and purpose – but as we age, what we want out of life can change. As well as continuing to work, we might wish to spend more quality time with the grandchildren, learn a new language, or start a new hobby.

If you want to attract and retain older workers, offering part-time hours, the option to work from home, or hybrid working is key, and will allow them to enjoy the right work-life balance.

Think outside the box

Get creative and try to come up with different ways you could exploit the knowledge and experience older workers bring to the table.

Could you employ someone on a part-time basis to act in an advisory capacity, for example? Or as a mentor or business coach? This would work particularly well for a start-up looking for help and advice but with limited funds. 

As part of your recruitment process, think about the transferable skills they could bring to a new role, such as problem solving or leadership skills.

Throw out negative stereotypes

We can all fall into the trap of lazy stereotyping, and there are so many associated with older workers:

They’re just coasting until they retire

They’re too set in their ways to learn anything new

They don’t like change

It’s important to check ourselves when we find ourselves thinking like this. Being age-smart means taking steps to remove these unconscious biases from both the recruitment process and the culture of the organisation.

Create a sense of belonging

If you want to retain older workers, it’s important to create an inclusive environment where they feel valued, supported and respected.

One of the ways you can do this is to set aside time to really get to know them.

  • What drives them?
  • What makes them happy?
  • What other things have they got going on in their lives?

By taking the time to listen deeply to their experiences, you will be more able to nurture and support them.

Ask for help

As a recruitment, retention and career development coach, I work with scaling businesses to attract and retain the people they need to make their business flourish. Adapting your business to be age-smart isn’t easy – there’s lots to consider, and in some cases it may mean a complete overhaul of the way you do things. If you’d like more support with this process, please do get in touch.

Together with my colleague Jo, a Diversity, Equality and Inclusion specialist, we can help you review your recruitment processes and job descriptions to ensure unconscious biases don’t creep in, enabling you to attract older workers.

Once you have your new team member on board, we recommend our 1 : 1 coaching, which is often the best way of developing someone who has a lot of experience. This might be anything from helping them to fit in with the rest of the team, or supporting them in the face of outside pressures, such as caring responsibilities.

In addition, we’ll take them through a career analysis, focusing on their top skills, identifying their strengths, uncovering what it is that really motivates them, and helping both you and them plan for the future they want.

With the UK skills shortage, it makes sense to rethink how you can better recruit and retain older talent. If you truly want to be age-smart and see things from their perspective, you might like to read my recent article Work or retire? 5 steps to help you decide.