The skills crisis is partly driven by older workers choosing to leave the workforce. Attracting and retaining this critical demographic could be exactly the answer many organisations are looking for, to combat skills shortages, boost resilience, and improve diversity of thinking.

In this article, we look more closely at the advantages older workers can bring—and how to build an age-inclusive workforce that supports their needs.

We’re losing older workers—right when we need them most

One of the lasting consequences of the coronavirus pandemic was a sharp decline in the number of older workers in the UK workforce.

Before 2020, we’d seen decades of growth, with the employment rate for workers over 50 increasing from 55% to 70% over thirty years. But since the start of the pandemic, the number of workers aged between 55 and 64 who are out of work and not looking for work has increased by nearly 600,000.

This comes in the context of the skills crisis, when organisations can ill afford these losses. More than half of UK businesses are experiencing skills shortages, and the financial burden of the skills gap has increased by 39% since 2019.

Attracting older workers back to the workforce could be the start of a solution, while also allowing organisations to capitalise on the advantages of an age-diverse workforce. The OECD found that age-diverse workforces could raise GDP per capita by almost 19% over the next three decades, for instance.

Advantages of older workers

As well as the benefit of building an age-diverse workforce, there are many advantages of older workers specifically:

  • Wisdom capital. Older workers typically bring many years of experience and skills, which can help the organisation solve its biggest challenges. This can be especially valuable to organisations or industries with a dearth of senior talent.
  • Fresh perspectives. One benefit of diversity is the unique perspective workers from different walks of life bring to the table. Older workers can help organisations capitalise on new business opportunities or develop ideas that the team might not otherwise have considered. 
  • Avoiding mistakes. In the course of their career, older employees have often seen, or made, mistakes that have taught them important lessons. Including these perspectives within the workforce can help organisations learn from mistakes—without having to make them.
  • Resilience. Older workers have often experienced challenges throughout their career and lives, learning how to cope and adapt. This can be an invaluable skill to impart across the organisation. Organisational resilience and personal resilience can be a mutually reinforcing system.
  • Mentoring opportunities. Older employees can often be an invaluable asset for organisations’ learning and development programmes, sharing their skills, wisdom, and network to help other employees grow. Older workers can be an enormous asset, now and for the future of the organisation.
  • Accountability. Older workers are often suited to senior roles with lots of responsibility, such as leadership positions. In these roles, individual impact is typically greater because they influence more people and shape strategic direction. Hiring the right experienced employees into these positions can have a huge impact on an organisation’s overall financial health.

As well as these many advantages, however, there are also challenges to managing a multi-generational workforce successfully.

Is your organisation age-inclusive?

The UK has an ageing workforce and population, so why are organisations struggling to hire and keep older employees?

The answer isn’t a lack of people, but rather a lack of incentive. If our workplaces aren’t attractive and inclusive, it’s unsurprising that employees would choose to opt-out if they have other options, like retirement.

To attract and retain older workers, organisations must understand and tackle some of the unique challenges this demographic might face—to build a truly age-inclusive workplace. But research suggests many businesses in the UK aren’t getting this right.

One-third of older employees have felt forced to retire because of age discrimination, for instance. Ageism in the workplace is often insidious, creating an environment that’s neither inclusive nor diverse.

To start turning the table on older employment and bring more experienced workers into the organisation, leaders must ensure they’re providing the right support.

For example:

Flexible working

Flexible working is essential to keeping older people in the workforce. In the UK, 63% of people in work over the age of 65 are working in a non-standard way, especially part-time.

Organisations that want to create an age-inclusive workplace should consider their flexible working policies to ensure there are clear processes for applying for flexible work, and good awareness among employees of all ages.

Health and wellbeing

As employees age, their physical and mental needs often change. For instance, older workers might find demanding physical tasks increasingly difficult. Likewise, older adults can experience a number of changes—taking new medication, for instance, or suffering bereavement—that can impact their mental health.

To support older workers, organisations should be aware of these challenges and make reasonable adjustments wherever possible. For instance, older women might benefit from additional menopause support.

It can be helpful to focus on creating an inclusive, safe culture where all employees can discuss issues openly and seek support.

Support with caring responsibilities

Older employees commonly have caring responsibilities that younger workers might not—like for ageing parents. Between 2010 and 2020 in the UK, people aged 46 to 65 were the largest age group to become unpaid carers, Care UK report. And three-quarters of carers who are also in employment worry about juggling care with work.

Providing care can impact workers’ mental health and wellbeing, causing stress and distress. Equally, workers might need to take time away from work to fulfil their responsibilities.

Creating a workplace that understands and supports employees with caring responsibilities can contribute to older workers feeling comfortable staying at work. If employees feel they have to choose between personal obligations and professional, many will choose the former and leave the workforce for good.


With their deep career and life experience, older employees can be critical to organisational success. That’s especially the case in the context of the ongoing skills crisis, with older workers offering a fantastic opportunity to widen the talent pool.

Building and managing a multi-generational workforce can bring challenges but considered, thoughtful HR policies and an inclusive culture can support all employees to thrive.