Populations that are both living and working longer are having a profound impact on the workplace. As many of us sit in our homes working instead of our offices, it is clear to us that the world of work is changing. Although a pandemic has necessitated and accelerated remote working arrangements, it is worth remembering that it is not the most significant, longer-term trend driving changes to the future of work.
Societies across many parts of the world are ageing as significant gains are made in longevity whilst birthrates continue to decline. The reality, of course, is far more complex and nuanced than just those headline trends but there is no doubt that the workplace is changing, evidenced by multi generational workforces and increasing participation rates of those over the age of 50. In the UK, the over 50s already make up one third of the labour force.
As ever, individuals are leading from the front in redefining how they choose to end (or not) their working lives. Retirement, for many, does not mean a hard stop at or around 65 and a clearly defined shift into ‘non work’. Of course, the notion of choosing is not an option open to all and varies according to health, financial circumstance and the nature of an individual’s work. That said, the growth in labour force participation rates of the over 50s is significant.
The widespread and underlying assumption that an ageing workforce should be viewed as negative needs to be addressed, as does the fundamental ageism that informs it. Ageism has a negative impact across many aspects of lives and industries and needs to be tackled with the full force of government policy, law and education, crucially, as does ageism is in the workplace.
A recognition of the skills and the value of experience of older workers should be obvious (eg domain expertise, a longer term view of an industry or company) yet somehow and at some stage (earlier for women than men) they are viewed as past their prime and as a drag on overall productivity. Research does not bear these assumptions out, yet they persist and have negative impacts on the careers and work aspirations of many.
At the macro level, outdated government policies on retirement age and pension/insurance provision are being challenged by these changing patterns and there is a need to adapt them to the new reality of an ageing world. Retirement is no longer a cliff edge and the rules around work and pensions need to reflect these changes. Pension rules, for example, that don’t allow for a transitional period, a slowing down rather than a full stop, between full-time work and retirement throw up barriers for both employees and employers to accommodate new arrangements. Outdated insurance policies that don’t cover older workers need to be revised.
Looking at the broader trends of a declining workforce, it is imperative that organisations think about how best to train (or retrain), retain and attract older workers if the talent needs of the economy are to be met. Making sure the skills of the workforce, no matter what their age, are updated and developed as necessary, is vital if future skills shortages are to be alleviated. By 2027, in the UK, there will be an estimated 13.5 million jobs and only 7 million younger workers to fill them.
There is also no getting around the fact that longer lives need to be funded. For many and where it’s possible, working longer will be part of that strategy. Employers will certainly need to accommodate the evolving needs of an ageing workforce and that may involve adapting the physical workplace, working schedules and the types of benefit packages provided, for example.
Supporting health and wellness, through workplace-based programmes will play an important role in supporting not just an ageing but a multi generation workplace. This should not be viewed as exceptionalism linked to age but as a position that supports all generations, whatever their needs. The software that assists someone with age-related changes to vision also supports anyone with vision related issues and so on. Changes to abilities and life circumstances can strike at any age. As is the case with other types of diversity, the benefits go far wider than just a narrow group and leads to better outcomes for all.
We will be discussing the impact of ageing on the future of work at FinTECH4Life 2020 and exploring how companies are responding to, supporting and deriving the most from people across their working lives and reaping the benefits of a five-generation workforce.