Insight into older workers presented its annual survey results at National Older Workers Week, with industry experts Kim Chaplain and Patrick Thomson.

Older worker walking in London


Leading experts observe some interesting insights about older workers following the publication of the annual survey results.

Following the unveiling of the results at National Older Workers Week, Patrick Thomson, Head of Research, Analysis and Policy from Phoenix Insights, claimed that people of all ages are open to learning, but too often they are not getting the opportunities to do so. The workingwise survey showed that 88% of older workers are keen to learn something new, but, while most of these [72%] had received training recently, of those who hadn’t, 45% said it was because training was prioritised for younger people. 34% also felt that it was prioritised for full-time rather than part-time workers.

Thomson pointed out that it can be expensive for workers to switch careers entirely, but there may be changes, like upskilling or swapping roles within an organisation, which could help people to get out of a rut.

He also noted that for most older workers linear career progression was not a priority and instead sideways moves or what is known as the ‘squiggly career’ were popular as work life balance became more important.

Thomson highlighted the figures on caring responsibilities, which showed that just 27% of those polled did not have a caring responsibility. This shows, he said, that care is not ‘niche’ and actually forms a core part of workplace needs for older workers. He also spoke about the importance and value of ‘check-ins’ with older workers about where they are in terms of their health, career and finances. Phoenix Insights recently published a report on Midlife MOTs and is rolling out its own programme.

Ageism in recruitment

Kim Chaplain, Specialist Advisor – Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, was not surprised by the survey’s findings on the high levels of perceived ageism in the recruitment process; [57% of current jobseekers mentioned it]. “It’s not easy to change. There is a lot of ageism in the system. We need to keep pushing away at organisations” she said. Kim described tackling the issue as “a hard slog” and said it would take time to move this forwards. Such perceptions affect older workers’ confidence about moving jobs too, she said.

Chaplain confirmed that more than 280 employers have already signed up to the Centre for Ageing Better’s Age Friendly Employer Pledge since its launch last year. Initially, the focus of the Pledge was on age bias in recruitment, said Chaplain, but now the focus is on retention. This leads to better conversations with managers, although there are a lot of sensitivities, Chaplain points out, with managers worried about upsetting workers by mentioning retirement and older workers nervous about talking about anything that might be perceived as a ‘weakness’. A more open and supportive culture will help to overcome this, with more involvement of age diversity network groups helping to shape that culture.

Chaplain called for a focus on quality work for the over 60s – particularly as more people are working beyond 65 – and a drive to celebrate older workers. Reaching out to individuals who want to work, but may not come under the purview of Job Centre Pluses, was also important, she claimed.

The value of flexible working

Flexible working is an important retention and attraction factor for older workers, explained Thomson, adding that an international study showed the UK compares badly to the US and Germany. There is a danger that without it people leave work early or are pushed out of the workplace, draw down on their pensions and then run into financial problems when they are older.

Other points raised during the session included questioning whether CVs are actually the best vehicle for recruiting experienced workers, and the importance of creating more jobs that build on human experience amid concerns about AI in the workplace. Chaplain added that she was struck by the diversity of caring that goes on and said this should inform policy; Thomson confirmed that Phoenix Group offers paid carer’s leave and suggested that it pays for itself in terms of staff retention.

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