How can we boost the return of over 50s to the workplace?
It is encouraging to see the Chancellor paying attention to economic inactivity among over 50s but steps need to be taken to further improve the situation.
Our Chief Executive, Dr Carole Easton, discusses recent comments by the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, on the ways to encourage older workers back into work.
It's encouraging that Jeremy Hunt is acknowledging older workers are important contributors to the economy and more needs to be done to encourage them back to work. In an interview for the Sunday Times yesterday Hunt recognised that the 'economic levers' are limited, given that many have chosen to leave work. The government, he argues, must appeal to 'hearts and minds' and make clear that 'your country needs you'.
He went on to say: “This is a time when you can make an enormous contribution perhaps in a different way, perhaps with flexible working, perhaps not quite so many days a week. You can have an enormously rich life by continuing to make a contribution to the economy. It doesn’t just have to be about going to the golf course.”
What he does not do in this interview is clarify that 'chosen' hides a multitude of reasons why older people leave the workplace including an inability to manage other responsibilities such as caring. Many companies do not offer flexibility or part-time options.
The suggestion about the 'golf course' is also an unfortunate suggestion when more and more older people are struggling to make ends meet and find that they do not have enough savings or pensions to meet their increasing bills. Other reports have used the phrase 'the Great Lie Down' to describe older workers leaving the workplace prematurely. We must resist these ageist assumptions.
There is no doubt this is a crisis. The number of 50-64s who are economically inactive currently sits at 3.6 million, 300,000 higher than pre-pandemic. We know at least 500,000 of this group would like to be in work – and many more may be encouraged back if the right jobs and support were available. Yet, ageism in the workplace and recruitment processes persist, and just 1 in 10 people aged 50-64 who are out of work are engaged in back-to-work support.
Going back to work would enable people to boost their savings and quality of life in retirement.
The chancellor is right to put so much focus on this group. Research shows that getting more over 50s back into work would seriously boost the economy and productivity. And of course, we know there are plenty of vacancies that businesses are crying out to fill, and doing so could help to ease inflation.
There are three key ways he can do this:
Improve employment support – employment support has historically failed this age group. A one-size-fits-all-ages approach simply doesn’t work. Advice and support needs to be tailored to people at later stages of their working lives, addressing issues such as long periods since they applied for a role, or a lack of confidence in selling their skills and experience. And it needs to be accessible and appealing: only 1 in 10 out-of-work 50-64s participate in employment support, according to analysis from the Learning and Work Institute. This support should be available via local settings that people trust. For many over 50s, stigma and fruitless past experiences put them off engaging with the Jobcentre altogether.
Make employers part of the solution – UK employers are starting to wake up to the fact that a significant proportion of the workforce is over 50, and that more of us will need and want to work well into our 60s. But in this country, we are still behind the curve. The chancellor needs to work with businesses to turbocharge their understanding of how to make workplaces – and our economy – fit for older workers. We have launched an ‘Age-friendly Employer Pledge’ to help employers easily do this. In practical terms it means things like eliminating the age bias that is rife in recruitment and making workplace cultures more age-inclusive. It means understanding that many in this age group need to provide care for loved ones and/or grandchildren and that offering flexible working hours, part-time roles, and ‘carers leave’ would make work much more possible for them. It means employers actively marketing jobs to older age groups and making clear in their communications that they value workers of all ages.
Sell the benefits of work – if you are in your 50s and 60s and have spent the last decade of your working life feeling overlooked, struggling to work full time or full throttle because of a health condition or caring for a parent, or worrying about changing jobs for fear of your age standing against you in an interview, it seems reasonable you’d want to call it a day – especially if redundancy forces that decision upon you. But we need to make clear that ‘good employment’ can have hugely positive effects on people’s health and wellbeing. Going back to work would enable people to boost their savings and quality of life in retirement – a great source of worry for many as the cost of living crisis bites. It’s crucial that the government sends this group a positive message that the workplace as they knew it is changing and that older workers are wanted and that they are valued.
One thing’s for sure, implying that economically inactive over 50s are enjoying golf too much to return to work is probably not going to help. And, if we are trying to win hearts and minds here, that kind of message could end up having the opposite effect.