The best way to help younger workers through the recovery is having older workers alongside them
The economic fallout from the pandemic has resulted in the highest unemployment figures for the past five years and from an increasingly tough job market.
Our Senior Programme Manager for Work, Patrick Thomson, explains why the focus shouldn't just be on younger workers and that actually multigenerational teams benefit everyone.
The latest figures also show unemployment at a five-year high, and there has been a lot of focus on ways to support younger workers who predominantly worked in sectors hit by the pandemic.
Older workers also risk seeing many of the gains in the job market over recent years hit by the downturn. As the State of Ageing in 2020 shows, there are now nearly 4 million more people who are working over the age of 50 than there were in 2000, and the employment rate of people aged 50-64 has increased by 12 percentage points over the same period. And yet by the time they are 65, under half of men, and less than a third of women, are still in employment.
Could older and younger workers working together hold the key to the economic recovery?
New analysis from the OECD shows that older workers could be a key contributor as firms seek to boost their productivity. Analysis of international data showed that older workers are just as productive at work as any other age group. Perhaps more importantly, having a worker over 50 in a team is associated with increased productivity of co-workers around them, particularly younger colleagues.
These spillover effects boost productivity in three ways: lower job turnover, their greater management experience and their greater general work experience.
Employers benefit from greater productivity gains, employees are also rewarded with higher wages when they work with others of a different age. Far from being in competition, different age groups working together can help businesses and individuals.
But are individuals, employers and the economy ready to embrace multigenerational teams?
For many, 2021 will be a tipping point. Our work with the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that one in eight older workers have changed their retirement plans as a result of the pandemic. Millions of people are facing big decisions in how and if they will work for longer. Those furloughed or losing work have reduced pension contributions. Many people have seen plans for retirement slip away, and others have given up on work. Many older workers face barriers returning to work and moving jobs, just at a time when they may need to work for longer.
If we are to see greater age-diversity in the workplace, and the associated productivity gains, we need to support people to stay in work for longer. To achieve this, people need three things:
- To be able to work for longer
- To want to work for longer
- To have a job to do
The economic impacts of COVID-19 have increased the differences between the haves and have nots. Not just whether you are in work but the experience of that work and your financial wellbeing. Employers are key to achieving all three of these outcomes in a way that doesn’t leave anyone behind.
People need to be able to work for longer
It might sound obvious but for people to do a job, the job has to be doable. With our longer lives this needs to be doable not just over a 40 hour a week, but for 40 weeks a year and for 40 years. One in four people in the UK don’t think they could do their job or one like it beyond the age of 60. The State of Ageing highlights that half of workers aged 50-69 say their job is excessively demanding, and around one in three say they have a lack of control at work. Low control, high demand roles are damaging in the short term and unsustainable over a working life.
People themselves say that flexible working is the number one workplace practice that would support them to work for longer. We have produced a toolkit with experts and employers to shape how to make this work in practice.
We also know that supporting employee health and wellbeing in the second half of their working life is crucial. OECD’s study confirms that poor health also impacts productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism.
People need to want to work for longer
Social attitudes data shows that over recent decades more people are realising that they need to work for longer, and often that is through necessity more than choice. The state pension age reached 66 for the first time in 2020 and will rise to 67 in the years to come. Having a choice over how and when you work over the age of 60 is a key indicator of wellbeing and quality of life, even when accounting for social background and previous health.
For many people, alongside the financial necessity, are other benefits that good work can bring. Fulfilling work can have many benefits for people’s financial wellbeing, their social connections, meaning and purpose. Offering mid-life support to plan for the future is one way employers can help people to frame their longer working lives and the government is looking promote concepts like the mid-life MOT.
Good work is key to people wanting to work for longer. McKinsey research shows that 25% of an employee’s overall life satisfaction is determined by their job satisfaction. The most important factors in job satisfaction are having an interesting job and having good interpersonal relationships. And good relationships with management account for 86% of whether or not we are satisfied with our relationships at work. Employee satisfaction is essential for businesses too, being positively correlated with customer satisfaction, lower staff turnover, profitability, and productivity.
So work matters, and in particularly the actions of leadership and line managers. They have the opportunity to make jobs better and they certainly run the risk of making jobs worse.
People need to have a job to do
While self-employment is a growing part of the labour force (particularly for one in five workers in their 50s and 60s who are self-employed) most people work for someone else. Employers and recruiters therefore play a big role in whether someone is in work for longer.
For employers to continue to employ and recruit older workers, they need to recognise the tremendous undervalued resource that older workers bring.
Our Good Recruitment for Older Workers project has shown that not only do employers rarely think about the age when looking to improve the diversity and inclusion of their workforce importance of age in recruitment, older workers are more than twice as likely as younger workers to say that the recruitment process disadvantages them.
Employers are key to making this change – in recognising the productivity benefits of multigenerational teams, supporting health and flexible working, improving line management and leadership. This means overcoming age stereotypes and biases in the workplace and creating age-positive cultures. This will benefit younger and older workers alike, and crucially benefit the productivity of employers themselves.