The Age-friendly Employer action framework
This framework sets out ideas for steps that employers could take to meet the commitments of the Age-friendly Employer Pledge.
About the framework
The framework is based on research commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better, and on the experience of leading employers. It is not exhaustive and will continue to grow as more employers learn what works for them. It is a starting point and inspiration for employers who are pledged to take at least one action a year.
The framework identifies five key areas where employers can make changes to create multi-generational workforces:
1. Create an age-friendly culture:
- Know your numbers: analyse an age-breakdown of your workforce
- Challenge stereotypes about older workers, and promote the benefits of multigenerational teams
- Listen to the experiences of your employees
2. Hire age-positively:
- Write job adverts that appeal to all ages, removing language and imagery that deters older workers
- Refresh application and interview processes to reduce age cues and minimise age bias
3. Be flexible about flexible working:
- Welcome flexible work for any reason, and advertise the right to request flexible working from day one
- Support your line managers to manage flexible working, using our toolkit
- Actively promote flexible working to workers in their 50s and 60s
4. Encourage career development at all ages
- Take targeted action to ensure equitable take-up of training opportunities
- Provide career guidance at mid-life and beyond, including retirement planning
5. Ensure everyone has the health support they need
- Support staff and line managers to have early and sustained conversations about health in the workplace
- Foster open conversations about menopause in the workplace, and provide adjustments if needed
Create an age friendly culture
Know your numbers: analyse an age-breakdown of your workforce
The first steps to any change are:
- make sure you have the right data collection and reporting processes in place
- understand your data
As with any legally protected characteristic, employers should be collecting and scrutinising data on the age profile of employees to identify issues.
As well as looking at your current workforce, you should look at your potential workforce to identify where qualified older candidates may be slipping through the net. Check how many older applicants are applying for jobs at your organisation, and how successful they are at each stage. This can help you spot where age-bias might be keeping the best talent out. You don’t need to publish the data – the most important thing is that you are looking at and using it.
At a minimum, employers can follow the data framework set out by the government’s Business Champion for Older Workers. Collect data in 10 or 5-year age bands, making sure you can easily compare the 50-64s against other groups. At a minimum, look at overall workforce, recruitment, attrition and training participation across the age groups.
We recommend you go further if you can, assessing different stages of the recruitment process (age of applicants, interviewees and hires), and promotion rates. You should also scrutinise any staff surveys you carry out for different responses between age groups.
You can use this information to help you formulate an action plan, prioritising where you want to try to make change. The rest of this framework contains actions you can take in all different areas of the pledge.
You can take inspiration from the case studies and peer learning events provided by the Age-Friendly Employer Pledge. And there are other great organisations who provide ideas and practical support for employers who want more help taking action towards being Age-friendly: including Rest Less, Working Wise and 55 Redefined.
Challenge stereotypes about older workers, and promote the benefits of multigenerational teams
Evidence shows that multigenerational teams are successful and dynamic, particularly when innovative and creative approaches are needed. However, our research shows that older workers are viewed more negatively by employers, and their skills rated lower than younger colleagues.ᶦ
Stereotypes, such as older workers being stuck in their ways or not as ambitious as younger colleagues, are harmful. They can lead to older workers missing out on development, training and progression opportunities. This creates a vicious circle, with older workers facing additional barriers to keeping their skills up to date. At worst, these attitudes can make older workers feel marginalised and demoralised, and push them out of the workforce.
And of course, harassment and discrimination in the workplace based on age is against the law.
To counteract these stereotypes, leaders can:
- Challenge managers or employees who make negative comments about age, and lead by example.
- Make sure that workers of all ages are represented when celebrating employee achievements.
- Make your commitment to a multigenerational workforce clear in internal and external communications.
- Be proactive in providing anti-ageism training to your staff.
- Check any internal communications for ageist language, using our 'Challenging ageism’ guide.
Listen to the experiences of your employees
One in five employers think that age discrimination occurs in their organisation. But two in five think that it occurs in their industry.
This mismatch suggests that employers may be underestimating the ageism experienced by people in their organisation. So listening to your workers is crucial for understanding what issues they face, and prioritising the action you will take. As a minimum, you can analyse the results of staff surveys by age – and add questions relating to age-inclusivity and age-bias.
Some organisations set up staff forums or networks for workers age 50 and over – to share experiences with each other and the organisation. For example, Saga runs ‘Age Inclusion Forums’ for Senior Executives to listen to staff experiences and ideas on age inclusion, and Phoenix Group runs an ‘Ignite’ network, for older employees to come together and discuss later working life and retirement.
To attract the best talent, make it difficult for biases to creep into your recruitment processes. Many employers already try to make sure that people are not disadvantaged by characteristics such as gender or ethnicity. Survey data suggest they have not been as successful on age, with a third of over 50s feeling that their age works against them when looking for a job.ᶦᶦ
Our research-based Good Recruitment for Older Workers (GROW) guide outlines actions you can take to tackles these issues. These include:
Write job adverts that appeal to all ages, removing language and imagery that deters older workers
Our research shows that language and images in job ads that emphasise younger people can put older workers off applying.ᶦᶦᶦ It also shows that making ads more appealing to older workers does not put off younger workers. It simply increases the pool of potential applicants.
To appeal to more older applicants:
- include a diversity statement in job adverts that emphasises age-inclusivity
- use specific, age-neutral language: our research shows that young-stereotyped terms, like ‘recent graduate’, ‘innovative’ and ‘tech savvy’ put older workers off applying
- make sure that career pages and recruitment tools include a diverse range of employees, and age-friendly imagery.
You can also encourage older applicants by working with recruiters who specialise in this age group, or posting your adverts on job boards targeted at them – such as Rest Less, Working Wise or Jobs Redefined.
Refresh application and interview processes to reduce age cues and minimise age bias
Commonly-used application processes – such as standardised application forms – can disadvantage workers with the most experience. To de-bias the application process:
- Remove any non-essential details on application forms that might indicate someone’s age. For example, ask for ‘relevant work history’ as opposed to an entire working history.
- Allow applicants to list their previous roles in terms of the number of years of experience rather than the dates of that experience on a CV. (Recent research has shown that doing this increased positive callbacks by 14.6%).ᶦᵛ
- Do not insist on applicants holding qualifications that may have come into existence after they left full-time education: for example, no one who left school before 1986 will hold GCSEs.
Unstructured interviews are among the worst predictors of on-the-job performance and are fraught with bias.ᵛ And we know that diverse interview panels reduce the chances of all applicants feeling out of place – including workers in their 50s and 60s. You should:
- Commit to using predefined questions and scoring mechanisms in interviews.
- Ensure that interview panels have multiple people and are as diverse and inclusive as possible.
Be flexible about flexible working
Flexible working practices are the single biggest factor that would enable people out of work in their 50s and 60s to return to employment.ᵛᶦ But since only one in four job ads advertise flexibility, people often find it difficult to know how a flexible working request would be received.ᵛᶦᶦ
Research shows that practices such as compressed hours and remote working can help people stay in work.ᵛᶦᶦᶦ Older workers can benefit, but so can people of any age with long-term health conditions, working parents and many others. This allows employers to access a wider pool of potential employees.
Welcome flexible work for any reason, and advertise the right to request flexible working from day one
To attract the most qualified candidates, take an open approach to flexible working. Where possible, advertise all roles as flexible for everyone, for any reason. Adopt reason-neutral flexible work policies: you should not have a limited list of acceptable reasons that people can request flexible working. If the job can be done flexibly, it can be done flexibly by anyone.
You should also make clear that flexibility is welcome from day one, rather than on request. Make a clear statement in job adverts that you welcome conversations about flexible, hybrid or remote working. Advertising a role as flexible could increase applications by up to 30%.ᶦˣ
Support your line managers to manage flexible working, using our toolkit
To make flexible working a success, there must be organisational buy-in to the benefits for employer and employee. Highlight the benefits of flexible working, such as reducing sickness rates and increasing job satisfaction and commitment.ˣ
Our Flexible working toolkit – produced with Timewise – helps guide discussions between line managers and the people they manage, so they can develop a flexible working arrangement that works for them both.
You should also be tracking training and promotions, to ensure that workers with flexible working patterns are given the same training and promotion opportunities as others.
Actively promote flexible working to workers in their 50s and 60s
Employers do not need age-specific flexible working policies. But our research with staff and employers shows that promoting flexible work to people in their 50s and 60s makes these employees feel valued – and more likely to take up flexible working arrangements that could keep them in work for longer.ˣᶦ
Support your carers
The peak years for caring are our 50s and 60s. Nearly half (42%) of all workers aged 50-69 report being a carer.ˣᶦᶦ
The majority of people in this age bracket who have caring responsibilities say they provide no more than nine hours support a week. Flexible working, then – reduced or compressed hours, or a shift in working patterns – can make a big difference to helping this group juggle their responsibilities.
This can help you attract experienced and skilled workers whose priorities in their 50s and 60s include wider family support. For example, the Centre for Ageing Better’s Chief Executive, Carole Easton, looks after her grandson one day a week. This will be particularly true for those who re-evaluated their priorities during the pandemic.
For others, caring responsibilities that emerge in mid-life necessitate a more substantial reduction in hours worked. Providing job opportunities well below full-time hours opens up access to a pool of workers who will bring the tenacity and skill that they have developed as a carer alongside their professional experience. And encouraging them to connect with other carers in the organisation, or providing mental health support via an employee assistance plan, helps them realise they are not alone.
Carers in both groups may sometimes face an emergency during working hours. Providing employees with access to carer’s leave provides peace of mind when those emergencies arise and can stop a short-term problem leading to the loss of a valued employee. A 2020 survey found that 80% of carers say that additional paid carer’s leave of between five and ten days a year would help them juggle work and unpaid care.ˣᶦᶦᶦ
Encourage career development at all ages
Take targeted action to ensure equitable take-up of training opportunities
Career development is a crucial part of job satisfaction at all ages. We don’t stop looking for opportunities to further our career when we hit 50. Remember, a 55-year-old still has 11 years before they reach state pension age.
Yet workers aged over 50 are less likely than any other age group to receive on-the-job training.ˣᶦᵛ This is a problem as training increases job satisfaction and productivity, and supports staff to adapt to the needs of the business.
Track your training data and monitor appraisal documentation, to ensure that training and development opportunities are being offered to and taken up by older workers. Where gaps are found, target offers of training to teams and individuals.
Provide career guidance at mid-life and beyond, including retirement planning
Assumptions about a linear working life – working full time, in a single industry until a cliff-edge ‘retirement age’ – are long outdated. We cannot assume that our working lives will look like generations before us.
The same can be said of life after work. Our research shows that people often put off planning for retirement until they are very close to it.ˣᵛ Many employers are nervous of discussing retirement with their staff – concerned about falling foul of the Equalities Act, by inadvertently suggesting to colleagues in their 50s and 60s that they should consider retirement.
But that risk is averted if retirement becomes part of holistic conversations about career plans and the future, which start well before people reach their 60s.
One vehicle for this is Mid-Life MOTs. These can be delivered through seminars, small groups and in one-to-ones. They help people reflect on their future and what they want, as well as learn about pensions and finances. Typically, mid-life MOTs cover career and skills, health and wellbeing and financial planning. Our own research shows that mid-life courses integrating therapeutic approaches – reflecting on values, relationships and fears – made participants clearer about their goals, and more positive about the future.
If you want to start your own mid-life MOT programme you can:
- use our guidance – and keep an eye out for the results of pilot programmes being run by the Department for Work and Pensions
- read case studies of how other large employers have made mid-life MOTs work for them
- take advantage of online, self-serve options such as via the Open University’s Open Learn platform.
Online self-serve options are a good way to make mid-life support available to large numbers of people. But bear in mind that the opportunity to discuss the issues – with peers or with managers – is a core part of the mid-life MOT concept.
Ensure everyone has the health support they need
Support staff and line managers to have early and sustained conversations about health in the workplace
Poor health is not an inevitable part of ageing. But in later life we are more likely to experience conditions that may require adjustments – often small – if we are to remain in and thrive at work.
Yet our research shows that older workers can be reluctant to disclose emerging health conditions or disabilities to employers for fear of experiencing ageism. This can prevent them from getting simple, timely support to stay, and succeed, in work.
If they do feel able to disclose their condition, and an adjustment is made, that may not be the end of the story. Our research also highlights that many health conditions associated with age are slow-onset, with fluctuating symptoms. So a one-off intervention may go out of date if it is not revisited.ˣᵛᶦ
All of these conversations will be harder if managers are not comfortable discussing health, or do not know what support they can and should offer their staff.
To tackle this:
- Make sure you have clear and visible policies and processes for supporting workers with health conditions or disabilities.
- Make clear to staff that managing health conditions is a normal part of working life, and that requests for support will not be stigmatised.
- Offer training to line managers, so they understand the range of reasonable adjustments they can make, and the support they can offer staff: such as occupational health support via you or the GP, or Access to Work.
- Make health and wellbeing part of your regular conversations with staff of all ages – so people have frequent opportunities to disclose any changes to their health and support needs.
Foster open conversations about menopause in the workplace
Research shows that 60% of women over 50 felt that menopause symptoms had a negative impact on their work. But many don’t feel able to talk freely about how they are affected and don’t get the support they need.ˣᵛᶦᶦ This can push people out of the workplace altogether. A recent survey found that one in 10 participants who had worked during the menopause left their job due to their symptoms.ˣᵛᶦᶦᶦ
No one experiences menopause in the same way, and symptoms are fluctuating. But the most-frequent adjustments are well known and easily implemented. These include being able to adjust workplace temperatures, provision of cold water, and exemptions from wearing hot, synthetic garments.
To understand these adjustments and support staff through menopause:
- Provide staff training on menopause: so workers of all ages and genders know more about the symptoms and experiences of menopause, normalising open and honest discussion.
- Make use of the guidance offered by CIPD for HR staff and people managers.
- Make menopause support part of your offer to staff, as part of any Employee Assistance Plans, so individuals can easily access advice and guidance from experts.
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