TalentChanging the conversation about age in the workplace

Changing the conversation about age in the workplace

As new generations enter the workforce, it’s becoming exceedingly difficult for businesses to accommodate for all age-groups in the workplace.

Inclusivity and communication play a huge part in every individual’s overall performance. For businesses to maximise the full potential of their employees, they need to change the conversation around age in the workplace.


Older workers in the UK may come into the workforce already at a disadvantage, due to unconscious bias and lack of digital skills. The number of older workers could continue to increase.

Studies by ELAS Business Support found that nearly 1 in 12 of those in their 70s are still working in the UK, a significant increase from the 1 in 22 who were working 10 years ago. Many are actively looking to top up their pension savings while they still can, but there is also a growing understanding of the many health and social benefits that come with working into retirement.

“Realistically, age should never appear on application forms.  It’s not necessary and if an application is rejected or turned down because of their age, the applicant has a case to file for an employment tribunal.” said Emma O’Leary, HR Director, ELAS.

“In the modern age, asking an applicant’s age is redundant and should not have any relevance to a job application. It’s not a characteristic which will impact the quality or ability of an individual’s work.”

“Recruiters and companies should question whether it’s suitable to include this in the application process, rather than including it because everyone asks.”

Companies also struggle with maintaining staff happiness and engagement for multiple generations under one roof. The expectations and demands of generations fluctuate significantly.

Steve Butler, CEO, Punter Southall Aspire shared his methods on ensuring that all ages are included within his multi-generational workforce.

“Helping staff to work together better and understand some of the pressures facing people at different stages in their lives – particularly older workers – is an ongoing agenda for us”

“At the start of our team meetings, everyone has the chance to get up and answer the same question: How would you score your last month, in terms of work, wellbeing and your private life?”

“Some people simply give a score out of 10, and then sit down again – and that’s fine. However, I am continually surprised by how many people are willing to share the truth about what’s going on in their life, personally and professionally. One memorable week, three staff members confessed that they were all struggling with the same difficult issue and it was a real eye-opener.”

“All three had ageing parents – and they all revealed that they were finding it difficult to care for them.”

“It was important to hear, because whilst everyone understands that employees might struggle to juggle their work-life with the demands of a young family, very few workplaces think about the pressures older staff come under when their parents grow infirm or ill and need significant support. Making arrangements for elderly parents who can no longer care for themselves or who may need medical care can require endless phone calls, meetings and running around.”

“It can also be a very painful experience for a child who sees their beloved parent gradually losing their health and their independence. Inevitably, this will take its toll on your employee’s work.”

“As our society ages, this scenario probably occurs more regularly in your workplace. But it took our staff members talking about what they were going through, to help younger employees appreciate the pressure they were under.”

“Most had no idea. This ritual we created at the beginning of our staff meetings is only a small change. But it was instrumental in helping the different generations in the same team understand each other and work together better. It’s not the only time it’s happened.”

“By openly rating their last month, all kinds of misunderstandings, problems and conflicts have been flagged up early. And given the diverse environment in which we work, often these involve intergenerational issue. Because when you have a very wide range of ages working together, the potential for misunderstandings grows.”

People in their 60s will simply not have the same ways of working as someone in their 20s. They will have different expectations from the workplace, different skills and very different life experiences. So, finding ways to get everyone communicating more effectively is crucial if you want to foster a supportive, successful workplace.

Changing the conversation around different generations working under one roof and recognising the true importance of prioritising this could be the missing formula to regularly seeing a rise in engagement and staff retention. With the workplace constantly changing, people will always remain at the centre of a business, if everyone is treated the same, then companies could see a happier, engaged, and productive workforce.

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