Ways of supporting an ageing workforce (with benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Supporting staff members is an important aspect of good management and business ethics. A key group to consider when developing staff support policies are older employees. If you work in human resources or similar roles, understanding the requirements and possible accommodations of this group can help you build a more inclusive workspace. In this article, we explain what the ageing workforce is, provide methods for supporting them, list the benefits this can bring and discuss employer obligations to ageing employees.

What is the ageing workforce?

The ageing workforce refers to working professionals who are above a certain age. There's no exact description of older employees, although a good definition would be that it broadly includes those aged 50 or above. This age range encompasses the two generations of Baby Boomers and Generation X, which roughly means anyone born between 1946 and the mid-1980s. All age groups within the workforce can exhibit certain traits, priorities and special requirements. For those above 50, this can include considerations for their health, skill sets, family life and retirement.

Related: 9 key characteristics of Generation X in the workplace

Ways to support older staff

There's no single way of providing adequate support to older workforce members. This is a group of individuals, each of whom has their own particular requirements and preferences. Considering how to support older staff can be part of a broader attempt to consider the unique requirements of a diverse workforce regarding age and other factors. It's therefore important to engage staff when seeking to improve the workplace for them, rather than assuming what their needs might be.

The following list contains some ideas for where to start and what topics to possibly broach when considering workplace policies for supporting ageing staff:

Health and wellbeing

Various health concerns may become more relevant to people above a certain age, although these are rarely exclusive. A good starting point could therefore be to consider work policies which promote good health and allow ageing staff to prioritise their own health better without worrying about how it might affect their careers. Some examples of this include increasing sick pay for those aged over 50 or offering private medical cover.

You might also consider workplace adaptations which assist those whose health limits their mobility. These policies can be particularly beneficial to those who suffer from chronic conditions, which may be more common among those above the age of 50.

Related: Ideas for employee wellbeing programmes you can explore

Mental health

Issues relating to mental health can be just as impactful on people's quality of life as physical health. It's also possible that different generations have contrasting views regarding handling it. Those born more than 50 years ago may have a preference for containing their issues and be reluctant to talk about them. Instead, they may choose to persevere without seeking assistance. Additionally, the topic of mental health may be more sensitive for these generations. Making mental health support available is a good approach.

Another thing to consider is the workplace culture, as supportive and collaborative work environments can help offset some negative emotions associated with mental health issues. It can also encourage staff to speak about their issues. Raising awareness in the office can also encourage everyone to be considerate, reassuring older staff that their concerns are valid.

Related: Ideas for employee wellbeing programmes you can explore

Work-life balance

Someone in their 50s or above may have multiple decades of work experience. They're also more likely to have children and grandchildren, and their attitudes to work-life balance may be different to younger staff with fewer family commitments. Older staff may also be helping their own children by babysitting grandchildren, taking them to school and other such support. More flexible working arrangements for ageing staff can allow them to continue helping their own families while working.

The specifics of these policies are likely going to vary depending on the circumstances. For example, a member of staff who takes their grandchildren to school in the morning may appreciate being allowed to come to work later. This could be based on making up the time later or another arrangement which gives them the necessary flexibility. Remote working options might also be helpful for those who want to babysit grandchildren or other families.

Related: Work-life balance: what it means and its effect

Skills training

The hard skills which are in demand in the modern workplace may be different to those that older employees have. Some of these skills may include those that Millennials and Zoomers (Gen Z) take for granted, such as the ability to use computers and other devices. It can therefore be a good idea to offer training opportunities for older staff who aren't so familiar with these devices, allowing them to take advantage of this technology as much as everyone else.

Related: How to successfully achieve a career change at 50

Benefits of supporting ageing staff

In addition to benefiting the members of staff themselves, an organisation which supports older employees can benefit from their particular contributions. Some of the benefits of engaging and supporting older staff include:

Experience

By definition, an older member of staff is likely to have more work experience than their younger colleagues. The relevance of their experience is a separate matter, but possessing considerable work experience in any field can grant these individuals particular attributes. For instance, they've likely experienced a lot more change and might be quite resilient and patient. Many years of seeing how decisions produce results can also mean they have excellent judgement and an ability to notice patterns. Having some older members of staff within an organisation can therefore increase the available soft skills in the workplace.

Related: The importance of life skills at work and at home

Diversity

Age is just one example of a characteristic which increases diversity in the workplace. Just as having people from different backgrounds brings a greater diversity of opinions and life experiences to an organisation, so does having a workforce with different age ranges. Those over 50 may have opinions, ideas and ways of thinking that differ from those of their younger colleagues, thereby potentially increasing the intellectual diversity of the workplace.

Related: 7 reasons why inclusion and diversity matter (plus careers)

Public relations

Having more older staff can benefit an organisation's relationship with consumers. There are multiple reasons for this, one of which is simple representation. Older people represent more than 20% of the population, so having more staff in this age range can help the organisation appear more representative of these consumers. Those who interact with an employee of a similar age may feel like the organisation understands them better. It's also beneficial for organisations to demonstrate their commitments to fairness and combatting ageism, which is also part of their legal obligations.

Related: What is public relations? (Plus PR strategies and tips)

Employer obligations to older staff

There are certain obligations that employers have to their ageing staff. If you work in human resources or any other role that involves implementing workplace policies, knowing about these obligations is essential for supporting older staff. A primary obligation is non-discrimination against people for reasons of age, which includes hiring decisions. There are limited exceptions to this rule if the employer has a justifiable reason. There's also no default retirement age, meaning employers can't force those aged 65 or above to retire against their will.

Older staff also have equal rights to opportunities for training and promotion, meaning employers and managers can't use age as justification for not promoting or training someone. This also includes basing decisions on the health of a member of staff. There might even be instances of indirect discrimination, such as only offering certain opportunities to recent graduates as they're likely to be younger. Employers may ask about employees' health issues or similar concerns to implement workplace policies to support these staff.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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