Making the most of your over 50s talent

Steve Butler offers advice on how to get the best out of your 50-something people

The COVID-19 pandemic initially led to many people over 50 leaving the workforce, prompting the government to encourage their return.

However, data from the Labour Force survey indicates a reversal of this trend, with an increase in those aged 50 to 64 re-joining the workforce. Financial pressures resulting from the cost-of-living crisis are thought likely to be motivating their return.

This means these older workers will be playing an increasingly valuable part in the labour force of the future and employers need the right strategies to benefit from their experience and help them thrive in their careers.

Changing demographics and an ageing population, coupled with workforce shortages, means some employers will need to re-think how they support their older employees to keep them working and being productive for longer.

Flexible working is no longer a ‘nice to have’ it’s a ‘must have’

For businesses to really back older workers, some will need to change their perceptions and ensure they stamp out any ageism that might exist. For example, older people are often perceived as being techno-phobic, lacking ambition or resistant to further training or learning which can hinder their chances when applying for roles.

For those already in a job it can mean they are overlooked for promotion as managers think they will be retiring soon. Without tackling these stereotypes, employers can be in danger of losing workers or struggle to recruit talented over-50s, which means they could be missing out on an increasingly valuable talent stream. 

With these challenges in mind, forward-thinking employers need to be putting in place a framework to support them and ensure they feel valued, so they can remain in their careers until retirement. This is not only good for the employee; it’s good for business, ensuring vital skills, experience, and knowledge stay in the organisation.

What do employees value?

A recent survey amongst over 1,176 HR professionals offered a UK-wide snapshot into the most valued employee benefits. It showed that two years after flexible working pipped pensions to top spot in the employee benefits rankings, HR teams now say pensions are the top employee benefit. Flexible working is second, followed by mental health and wellbeing support.

With pensions back on top, it is clear people are focusing on planning for the future again.

However, the research also revealed that just over half of companies did nothing to support their staff to plan for life after work, beyond contributing to their pensions. With the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) recently revealing that 90% of people are not saving enough for their retirement, that makes this an area deserving of more attention.

Pensions, flexible working and wellbeing are key areas to focus on when considering what older workers may need. Helping people to plan financially for later life and offering guidance should be a priority to help safeguard their retirement. Flexible working also has particular relevance for 50-somethings.

A good number are more likely to be looking after children at the same time as caring for elderly relatives, so a flexible working life can really help them with these commitments, freeing them to focus on their work when they need to. There are several strategies companies could put in place that bridge the conflict between obligations at home and in the workplace.

Practical solutions

Flexible working is no longer a ‘nice to have’ it’s a ‘must have’. Older workers especially are often squeezed and unless there’s flexibility, they could leave. Additionally, some may just want a better work life balance after decades earning a living.

There are many ways to offer this including flexitime, reduced hours or part-time working, a compressed work week or hybrid working.  A work pattern that can accommodate flexible working in a way that suits the business and the employee can help retain people or attract them back.

Sabbaticals can be open to anyone but are more likely to be used by older employees who perhaps need time to recharge. These can give employees the chance to try something new and enable experiences that drive both personal and professional growth. Sabbaticals are a benefit often underestimated by employers but could have a massive impact on someone’s life, as well as recruitment and retention. 

Reverse mentoring is another great option, as it provides an opportunity for junior colleagues (often younger) to mentor senior people (often older) so both gain valuable insight to “standing in someone else’s shoes”. This can help create an age-positive working environment, where people of all ages feel valued and enable people to share knowledge and different ways of working.

Having frank conversations around role changes too can result in experienced people taking a step back into a new, less critical post but remaining in the organisation. This can take the pressure off colleagues who may otherwise consider leaving and enable the company to retain their valuable skills, knowledge and experience.

Something also worth looking at is later life care support – given that many people in their 50s are caring for older parents. Providing access to professionals to advise on how to access and fund care for elderly family members could be very welcome, indeed.

Offering financial planning and retirement advice is something most over 50s would find enormously valuable, too. Whilst it can often be assumed that this group is financially savvy it’s not always the case. Many are facing cost pressures and may not have as much in their pension pot as they thought. Often, they are time poor, too. Providing access to financial advice can give people more options and enable them to better plan the road to retirement.

Finally, conducting midlife career reviews can be a practical way to identify the needs and aspirations of employees in their 40s and 50s. These can stimulate conversations about all the above, so employers know how best to support their people as they approach the later stages of their career. And, by doing so, they also enrich their business.

Steve Butler is CEO of Punter Southall Aspire

Steve Butler

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