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Older employees find work too woke

“There are 1.2 million economically inactive people aged 50-64 who have retired early.  Tweaking the pension system may encourage some of them back into work —but these policies will achieve little if one of the main reasons why people are giving up work in the first place is woke culture

Older employees are dropping out of work due to what they see as ‘woke culture’, according to new research.

A national poll of 2,000 people* found that a third of workers over 55 described their workplace as “too woke” (33 per cent) — almost double the percentage of those under 35 years old (17 per cent).  

And while older workers are much more likely to find their workplace “too woke” they are also almost twice as likely to want to leave their organisation if they do — either to retire or for another employer.  

One in every two workers (50 per cent) over the age 55 said that the “wokeness” of their ‘woke workplace’ made them more likely to leave — either to retire or to work somewhere else.  Only 29 per cent of workers under the age of 35 said the same.  

While only 13 per cent of women told Randstad their workplace was ‘too woke’, 22 per cent of men said they thought the same.  

Victoria Short, chief executive of Randstad UK, said: These findings have immense implications for staff retention. One of the most significant challenges that the country faces isn’t unemployment — it’s under-employment.  Accomplished, experienced, senior staff are leaving the workforce at an ever younger age, taking their vast reserves of institutional knowledge and industrial knowhow with them, and retiring early.  

“For at least a decade, workplaces and their cultures have been becoming more ‘woke’, progressive, and enlightened.  What no one had considered is the effect that might be having on workers over 55.  It’s easy to see how more mature staff members — and remember we’re talking about people in their 50s not 80s — could risk feeling left behind and out of step.  What they say and how they say it is more scrutinised than ever.

“And because of historic biases, expectations around career paths, and other systemic problems in recruitment processes in the past, many of these older workers are men, too, who are also more likely to see their workplace as overly ‘woke’. 

“What’s the answer?  We have to appreciate that real inclusivity is also about embracing those that aren’t necessarily on board with the mixed sex loos in offices, the awareness days in the kitchen, and the pronouns on email signatures.  While these results suggest ‘woke’ works for younger people — indeed, a third of workers under 25 still think their workplace isn’t woke enough  — there are multiple generations in the workplace, all with different expectations and life experiences.   

“Progress is essential and must be welcomed and championed — younger people have always been a strong voice when it comes to progress.  But this has to be balanced with the views of people who have been shaped by different life experiences, be that through age, time in the workplace, or even religion and culture — even if listening to those views may make younger generations feel uncomfortable.  While complex topics will always bring a level of discomfort as people have to try new ways of thinking, it’s important to remember that every generation’s voice is valid. 

“Being comfortable with that discomfort, and recognising that diversity is about more than our own view on something will be challenging for all generations in the workplace. Not shutting down others’ voices or silencing opinions from other groups of people is more important for creating an inclusive culture that works for multiple generations, than initiatives that are all talk and no action.”

“I have led numerous equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives within our own business and I know these topics can be complex to navigate and need to be dealt with plenty of nuance.  Perhaps this is where ‘woke’ is seen as something to fight against, when  its principles and sentiment are those that most would likely  agree with, but the delivery can put people off — an unintended consequence.”

In the Budget, Jeremy Hunt announced three pension giveaways to encourage the over-50s to return to work or delay their retirement plans.  One will allow workers to contribute up to 50 per cent more to their pensions each year, with the annual allowance increasing from £40,000 to £60,000.  The £1.07 million lifetime allowance has been scrapped altogether with the lifetime limit on tax-free pensions savings being abolished completely.  And the chancellor has raised the money purchase annual allowance from £4,000 to £10,000, which largely affects older people returning to the workplace.  

Additionally, the chancellor is introducing the idea of a new training programme for out-of-work older people — “a new kind of apprenticeship targeted at the over 50s who want to return to work” called Returnerships.  The chancellor said returnerships will “bring together our existing skills programmes to make them more appealing for older workers focusing on flexibility and previous experience to reduce training length”.  This programme of work will be backed with £63 million of additional funding.  

Victoria Short said: The chancellor’s policies to encourage more over-50s to return to work and alleviate the alarming drop in workers recorded after the pandemic seem perfectly sensible. Indeed, we have been lobbying the government for years to improve the upskilling and reskilling environment for older workers.

“There are 1.2 million economically inactive people aged 50-64 who have retired early.  Tweaking the pension system may encourage some of them back into work but these policies will achieve very little if one of the main reasons why people are giving up work in the first place is woke culture.  This polling suggests too many over-50s feel left behind in workplace environments where cultures aren’t as inclusive as they ought to be.”

“We welcome the returnerships, in principle. Helping over 50s upskill / reskill will help balance out the risk of some feeling left behind and under-valued, and help to shift the focus away from ‘woke culture’ back to creating diverse, equitable workplaces, with a mix of experiences and respectfully delivered views.”

In January, Randstad published management information showing a small spike in over-60s signing up to find jobs with the recruiter.  The driver appeared to be the cost of living crisis.  

*Commissioned by Randstad UK&I,

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