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A guide to age-inclusive recruitment

This guide sets out five key actions, with checklists designed to help your organisation to become a more age-inclusive employer.

Older worker

This guide is based on our Good Recruitment for Older Workers (GROW) project findings. It is designed to help organisations recognise the negative role that age-related discrimination plays in recruitment processes and provide practical suggestions for you as an employer to become more age-inclusive.

Download the PDF to read the guide in full.

The current recruitment environment

The current recruitment environment is not as age-inclusive as it could be. More than a third (36%)¹ of 50-69 year olds say they feel at a disadvantage when applying for jobs due to their age. They felt this at every stage of the recruitment process, from the language in job adverts to ageism by interview panels.

Our previous research²  found that age is the least scrutinised and most widely accepted form of discrimination in the UK. Despite this, recent research³ by  by YouGov for the Centre for Ageing Better shows that the majority (51%) of employers in England are unlikely to introduce or develop policies relating to age in the next 12 months.

With many of us working for longer, and rising job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for employers to be committed and proactive in building age-inclusive workforces. Otherwise, they will risk missing out on all the advantages a multigenerational workforce has to offer.

 

Why be age-inclusive?

Recruiting inclusively to build a multi-generational workforce is a ‘win-win’ for everyone.

Older workers are good for business.

Recent analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)⁵ shows that a firm with a 10% higher share of workers aged 50 and over is 1.1% more productive. These productivity gains come from lower job turnover and the greater management and general work experience of older workers.

Being age-inclusive helps people who want to stay in work for longer

Being in good quality, fulfilling work for as long as people want is critical for people’s financial security now and in the future. Older workers value⁷ the same things in work as younger workers, including social connections developed in the workplace and having a sense of purpose.

Age inclusivity boosts the economy

Research⁸ shows that a 1% increase in the number of people aged 50-64 in work could increase GDP by around £5.7 billion per year and have a positive impact on income tax and National Insurance Contributions by around £800 million per year. In our latest employer YouGov survey⁸, 76% of employers in England agreed that older workers’ experience is crucial to the success of the organisation.

This guide is designed to help make sure positive attitudes towards older workers are reflected in your organisation’s recruitment processes and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) policies.

This guide sets out five key actions, with checklists designed to help your organisation to become a more age-inclusive employer.
Checklist:
  • Include a short diversity statement in job adverts emphasising age-inclusivity.
  • Consider the cumulative effect of how age interacts with other characteristics such as gender, ethnicity or disability and consult with staff on how to reduce any negative impacts.
  • If using cultural ‘fit’ criteria in your assessment, ensure that the criteria against which the ‘fit’ will be assessed is transparent, applied consistently across candidates and clearly communicated during recruitment.

Put age into ED&I

As age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, your organisation could be subject to legal challenge of discrimination if you do not take account of age in recruitment and in all aspects of staffing policy and practice.

If using cultural ‘fit’ criteria in your assessment, ensure that the criteria against which the ‘fit’ will be assessed is transparent, applied consistently across candidates and clearly communicated during recruitment

No candidates should be judged on ambiguous and informal criteria, and as such ageist views can masquerade as ‘poor cultural fit’. For example¹⁴, an interviewee reported that their organisation looks for someone who is ‘dynamic and ambitious’ or ‘sociable and outgoing’, characteristics that are often associated with younger people.

Instead, consider:

Any ‘fit’ should be narrowly focused on a limited set of values and employers should challenge values that ‘cover up’ any non-inclusive recruitment decisions.

3 Advertise without age bias

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Checklist:

  • Emphasise employer benefits which might appeal to older workers, such as flexible working.
  • Frame and word job advertisements with care, ensuring that they aren’t age-biased.
  • Circulate job advertisements as widely as possible, using multiple digital and non-digital platforms.
Emphasise employer benefits which might appeal to older workers.

Flexible working (working more or less hours, or in a different pattern) is the number one workplace factor that over 50s themselves say would help them to work for longer. But  despite often being considered a standard part of employment terms, these benefits are rarely highlighted by recruiters, with flexible working appearing in just 5.5% of job adverts.

  • Make sure that benefits your organisation offers such as flexible working or generous workplace pensions are highlighted in job adverts.
  • Read our toolkit with Timewise for more information about how to become a flexible working employer.

Flexible working toolkit

Find out more 
Frame and word job advertisements with care, ensuring that they aren’t age-biased.

It’s important to consider that using language which appeals more broadly to older people does not deter young applicants. Simply using more age inclusive language and emphasising employer benefits in job advertisements is likely to both increase the size and age range of a candidate pool, as well as ensuring that every applicant feels that they have the best chance of success. When writing job adverts, you should focus on:

  • Avoiding using age-biased language, by replacing terms such as ‘innovative’, ‘technologically savvy’ and ‘recent graduate’ with specific behaviours and skills required for the job, such as ‘programming skills’.
  • Using language shown to promote age-diversity, such as 'knowledgeable' and 'dependable’.
  • Including positive and realistic images of older people in job adverts from our free ‘Age Positive Image library.
Table showing effects of age-stereotypical words and phrases
Circulate job advertisements as widely as possible, using multiple digital platforms.

Research from more than 80,000 employers found that word-of-mouth and personal recommendation were the most popular recruitment methods in 2019, with 71% using this approach. However, these are arguably the least effective methods of increasing diversity in an organisation, as individuals often unintentionally surround themselves with people like themselves. Focus on:

  • Sharing job advertisements widely and across multiple digital platforms. This is likely to reach people from a wider range of backgrounds and increase the number of applicants you receive

 

4 Check your process

Whilst many of the employers interviewed for our research placed strong importance on diversity and inclusion, their recruitment tools and strategies did not reflect a specific commitment to age inclusivity. In fact, none of the employers interviewed in our ‘Shut Out’ report had a strategy explicitly aimed at increasing the number of workers or job applicants from older workers.

We know that ageism can impact all stages of the recruitment process, and different ages are affected in different ways.

For instance, even if an organisation has age inclusive policies in place, that doesn’t mean that they are effective. In fact, while 40% of employees over the age of 50 think their workplace has a policy related to preventing age discrimination, nearly half of these people (47%) say it has made no difference. Therefore, it's important to review your recruitment tools and processes as they relate to older applicants

Case study

Example

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