Employers need to improve the way they recruit, train and retain workers over 50 to fully harness their skills and experience.

The situation

Workers aged 50+ represent a rising proportion of the UK workforce. CIPD analysis from 2020-21 showed workers aged 50+ accounted for 32.6% of the workforce, up from 21% in the early 1990s. However, employment rates still decline rapidly after workers enter their fifties for a range of reasons, including early retirement, ill health or a move to self-employment.

Workers over 50 generally find it harder than other age groups to find new employment, often because of discrimination or bias on the part of employers and recruiters.

A lack of flexible working can also make it harder to remain in employment, particularly if workers have caring responsibilities, a disability or a long-term health condition.

Unless more employers improve how they recruit, train and retain older workers, they are likely to face increasing skill and labour shortages.

CIPD viewpoint

The CIPD is committed to the removal of age discrimination in organisations. CIPD research shows that age-diverse teams can benefit both individuals and their organisations. Genuine inclusion with equality of opportunity boosts workforce diversity, helps address skill and labour shortages, and benefits an organisation’s reputation and brand.

Given our ageing population, the proportion of workers over 50 is expected to increase. Therefore, it is crucial that employers establish the people management policies and practices needed to recruit, train and retain an age diverse workforce, and harness the skills and experience they have effectively. Research by CIPD in partnership with Reed (2022) found that just 18% of organisations focused on age diversity and inclusion during the previous five years. These are statistics that need to improve.

Actions for the UK Government

  • Support the activities and recommendations of the Flexible Working Taskforce aimed at increasing the prevalence of sustainable flexible working. This is likely to be beneficial to the recruitment and retention of older workers.
  • Take up the recommendations outlined in the Flexible After Fifty report, presented to the Employment UK Minister by the 50Plus Choices Employment Taskforce.
  • Introduce and implement nationally a preventative and targeted occupational health service to support organisations and ensure workers get early access to support. Given more than half of workers have a long-term health condition by the time they reach 60, supporting workers throughout their lives maximises their chances of having a healthy and active life as they get older.

Recommendations for employers

  • Use strategic workforce planning to understand the diversity and skills profile of the workforce and the extent to which it is equipped to meet the organisation’s future skills and labour requirements. Use this data to inform recruitment and people management and development practices.
  • Improve recruitment practices to eliminate bias, for example:
    • Frame and word job adverts with care. Avoid using age-biased language in your job adverts and refer to the specific behaviours and skills required.
    • Circulate job adverts as widely as possible, using multiple platforms. 
    • Regularly collect and scrutinise age data from the recruitment process. 
  • Invest in training, development, and improving performance management to ensure approaches are fair for all and therefore workers over 50 do not miss out on opportunities.
  • Support employee health and wellbeing, for example, by providing access to an occupational health service. Poor health is one of the biggest reasons for economic inactivity among those in their 50s.
  • Offer flexible working – changes in working arrangements can support those with ill-health or caring responsibilities.
  • Offer phased retirement options – managers should provide details about their organisation’s offerings around flexible working and phased retirement, without making assumptions about their retirement intentions.

Equality, diversity
and inclusion

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