Older workers are the solution – not the cause – to the UK’s productivity problem
Why do so many people believe that older people should make way for younger people in the workplace?
The causes of the UK’s productivity slump have become a key topic in the Conservative Party leadership contest. In this blog, our Chief Executive says that it's ageism – not an older workforce – that is holding back the UK economy.
Should there be a focus more on younger workers to improve productivity? This is what Amol Rajan implied on the Today programme last week when discussing productivity challenges in the UK economy. “Do we need to change that balance so you have more young people who might take risks, innovate and start companies?”, the presenter asked his guests.
This kind of line is lazy stereotyping based on pervasive ageism. Unfortunately, too many people are still indoctrinated with the misconception that older people should make way for younger people in the workplace, and that the former bring less value and are less reliable than the latter.
But, like so many prejudices, this is not founded on evidence.
So, here are a few facts that might challenge those assumptions and hopefully make employers stop and think about whether you're encouraging older people to work for you. This is particularly pertinent when so many employers are currently struggling to fill vacancies.
Fact 1: There are about 800,000 people aged 50-64 who are out of work but would like to be in work
This situation has worsened during the pandemic: the number of people aged 50-64 who are out of the workforce has risen by over 250,000 since the start of 2020. This of course suggests that if we can make the workplace inclusive for older workers, there will be plenty of people keen to return to work. This means offering flexible working from day one and making sure there are training and support services that are targeted at older workers.
Fact 2: Older workers are more likely to be self-employed and more likely to be a successful entrepreneur
Self-employment is more common among over 50s than other age groups, with many older workers using their experience to grow their own businesses and create jobs. In 2021, 17% of workers aged 50-64 were self-employed, compared to 13% of workers aged 35-49. Prior to the pandemic, workers aged over 50 made up almost half of all self-employed workers in the UK.
Research also shows that older entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed in growing their business than their younger counterparts. It shouldn’t really be a surprise to learn that a 50-year-old entrepreneur is 1.8 times more likely to achieve high growth than a founder in their 30s when you consider the additional experience and industry connections the older business founder has gained in those additional years.
For many older workers, self-employment and entrepreneurism is the best response to the ageism and discrimination they experience in trying to find employment as they get older.
Fact 3: Intergenerational companies are more successful
Businesses with a 10% higher share of workers aged 50+ compared to the average are 1.1% more productive, and companies with a multigenerational workforce have been found to be more innovative than those without. It pays – literally – to create and maintain a rich and age-diverse working environment.
Fact 4: Older workers cost less
Fact 5: Older workers take fewer short-term sick days than younger workers
Research from Ageing Better has shown that workers over the age of 55 are more likely to not take days off work for a health condition than their younger counterparts. This is often as a result of older workers fearing negative repercussions if they take repeated periods off work..
I could go on. But these facts are more than enough to demonstrate that employers can benefit greatly from workers in their 50s and 60s, and why tackling the reasons why older people leave work, and why they are unable to return, is vital.
This shouldn’t ever be a case of young versus old. No-one wins when generations are pitted against one another. But we cannot continue pedalling untruths about older workers, especially at a time when we need them most. It is not older workers who are holding companies and the UK economy back but the misconceptions underestimating older workers’ true value and worth.