Why is National Older Workers Week important?

Shyamantha Asokan spoke to Steve Butler from Punter Southall Aspire, about why he thinks National Older Workers Week is important.

Steve Butler


As chief executive of Punter Southall Aspire, a firm that advises HR directors on pensions and benefits for employees, Steve Butler has an insight into older workers. He is also doing a PhD that has involved researching the Covid pandemic’s impact on different generations in the workplace. Steve was a panellist at our National Older Workers Week this month.

We spoke to Steve about how he manages older workers on his teams and why we should have a National Older Workers Week.

Why do you think it is important to have a National Older Workers Week?

“Historically, certainly in the financial services sector where I work, we’ve made people redundant in their mid-50s and focused on having a younger organisation. But, with the demographics of society changing, we need to rethink how we engage with our older workers, to encourage them to stay in the workplace longer; older workers are a neglected group.

I’m also a big supporter of inter-generational teams and believe that greater diversity helps you to get the best out of people. It takes more management, but gives better results.”

Are employers becoming more interested in this potential talent pool?

“Post-Covid, we’ve got a talent squeeze and there are fewer people available for roles. So organisations need to look more broadly to recruit people, rather than their traditional audience. This is where returners* and that older cohort come in. A good example of this is what’s happened in the hospitality sector – research shows that said this sector is now significantly [staffed] by the over-50s.”

* Returners are people who have taken a career break, for instance, for caring reasons, and are looking to re-enter the workforce.

What do employers need to consider, in order to attract older workers?

“Firstly they need to consider if their interview processes are appropriate for that cohort, and if there is any bias in the recruitment processes. They also need to train managers to manage a multi-generational workforce. I experienced this when I was 28 and I managed a team of eight people aged 32-60. I definitely felt impostor syndrome and like they were all doubting if I was up to the job.

It’s also partly about using a management style that’s collaborative and brings people in.”

Why is flexible working a deal-breaker for many older workers?

“Employers need to embed flexible working for everyone as it is the cornerstone of diversity and inclusion. It is just as relevant for an older worker as it is for a parent returning to the workplace, or someone with ability issues. For example older individuals may help to look after their grandchildren, so they don’t want to work in the summer holidays. There are also those who are stretching out their working life because they can’t afford to retire yet, but don’t necessarily want to work full time.

Flexibility can take many forms – compressed hours, part-time working, home-based working, term-time contracts.”

What guidance do you give HR directors about older workers?

“It’s about looking at the demographic of your workforce and then matching the benefits to that demographic, rather than a standard set of benefits which might not appeal to everyone. Younger workers don’t necessarily want [very generous] death-in-service life insurance, but an older cohort may value that, and medical insurance.

I’ve also been championing the midlife review, which is sitting down with your mid-career employees and looking at what skills and training they might need to progress in their careers. ”

How do you support older workers in your own teams at PSA?

“I’ve got a number of older employees where we’ve adapted their roles to accommodate changing lifestyles or requirements. Some of them want a less pressured role so they don’t want to do client work for example, where they have to be available all the time. Or they want a bit more flexibility to look after grandchildren or do other things.

The key is to keep their expertise in the business – I’ve got lots of people with industry knowledge and connections that I don’t want to lose. If I can hang on to them for two days a week or three days a week, they can add huge value.”

Find out more about how to attract older workers to your organisation.

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