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Age old challenge

The ageing workforce is one of the biggest challenges facing our society today. People are not just living longer, they are working longer as well. 

With the rise in State Pension Age, many older workers are rethinking how and when they want to retire. Larger companies are often much more equipped to handle older employees, with procedures and policies in place designed to ensure equal opportunities. They also often have roles which require a very specific skill set and recognise the established networks which older employees have created throughout their working life and see the benefit that this could bring to their business.

Older workers often have the experience of working in many different kinds of jobs throughout their careers, so they have the flexibility to take on a wide variety of tasks. For example, when I was conducting a piece of research for the Department for Work and Pensions, I met a couple who ran a family owned printing company. They had hired an accountant who had previously retired from a finance job in London. The accountant was able to complete their accounts, but also used his work related network to help them find new suppliers as well as expand their business.

Most of the advice and case studies on managing work and retirement are geared toward large business, and managers of SME’s can sometimes feel that the many great ideas coming from big organisations would be difficult to apply in their workplaces. This feeling is understandable. Many innovative age management initiatives involve a great amount of strategic planning and SME’s seldom have the human resource managers on site to develop and implement sophisticated HRM plans. That said, older workers benefit from having an “up close and personal” relationship with the business owner who will often “go the extra mile” to help staff to prosper in their jobs.  Here are five tips I would give to SME owners to support older workers who want to stay employed and contributing to your organisation:

1) Look to older job seekers to fill job vacancies: About 600,000 of people over fifty are actively seeking work and another half a million people who are economically inactive but would like to return to work if the right job was available. SME employers can find skilled workers through the older job market.

2) Share older talent with business partners: Many SME managers are looking to their wider business networks in helping support their older employees make the adjustments they need in order to maintain employment. Supporting older job changers can be mutually beneficial for all since the employee is not only supported in transitioning to a new stage of his career, but also is working where his skills are most needed.

3) Use older workers’ skills to think strategically about growing the business: Older and more experienced employees, especially those who have been with the business for a long time, have the knowledge to identify how to secure and expand the firm’s business.

4) Consider how older employees can share their knowledge with younger employees. Mentoring and other knowledge management process can ensure that the employee’s assets (like work network networks) aren’t lost when the employ leaves the business.

5) Have a conversation with older employees about their career plans. Employers often worry that it is unlawful to talk to employees about their retirement plans.  However, guidelines from the government agency ACAS is clear: as long as you have had conversations with your employees about their careers throughout their working lives, you can also discuss retirement. This is because retirement is part of a career.

The ageing workforce is affecting all businesses, from the largest corporations to the smallest enterprises. Though this article discusses many of the challenges and options concerning SMEs approaches to managing work and retirement, I would also like to hear from you and have set up a forum for discussion which you can find at To find the good practice guide to age diversity which I have written specifically with SME’s in mind, go to

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