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Feeling your age? You’re not alone – the world’s population is steadily getting older. Last year, for the first time in history, people aged 65 and over outnumbered children under five years of age globally.[i] And as the population ages, so does the workforce: in the UK, there are now more than 10.5 million workers aged 50 and above, representing a third of the total workforce aged 16 and over.[ii]

The traditional notion of retiring at the age of 65 is a distant memory. Our ageing workforce research revealed this year that nearly three quarters of UK workers are set to work beyond their 65th birthday, with two in five of these believing they will reach at least their 75th birthday before they retire.[iii]

Whether working longer through choice or necessity, this trend presents both opportunities and challenges in equal measure. The untapped potential of the ‘longevity economy’[iv] is balanced with the need for employers to adapt to successfully support an ageing workforce.

Postponing retirement: the key drivers
A series of economic factors lie behind employees working for longer. Experts suggest inflation, which has been comparatively low in recent months, is on track to speed up again soon[v] and almost seven in ten workers in our research blamed the rising cost of necessities for postponing their retirement. Inflation eating into savings and poor savings returns were also key reasons cited.

Meanwhile, a third admitted they needed to continue earning a wage because their pension savings are insufficient. This difficulty can be established long before retirement – Gen X, or those aged 35-44, are often at the peak of their financial responsibilities[vi] and therefore struggle to balance the need to save for retirement while providing for their family.

However, it’s not all bad news, as some intend to stay in work out of choice. Three in ten respondents in our research said they want to work for long as possible simply because they enjoy their job. There are additional benefits to remaining in the work aside from financial reward, such as social interaction and keeping active, that can tempt to staff to remain for longer.

Whatever the reason for working into old age, it’s clear this trend is only likely to grow in future, and as such should be harnessed effectively. Yet currently, this is not being leveraged successfully – a report by accountancy firm PwC, for example, suggests the UK might be accruing a loss of nearly £200 billion as a result of not catering towards an older workforce.[vii]

The role of HR in supporting older workers
Companies cannot afford to fail to consider supporting an ageing workforce. Doing so goes beyond simply considering older candidates for job positions – employers also need to think about how they can retain existing staff as they age.

This support begins in a company’s HR department, including decisions that are made around employee benefits. Income protection, life insurance and critical illness cover are all valued benefits for employees considering working beyond the traditional retirement age,[viii] as they provide comfort and reassurance that their family and income will be protected if age catches up to them in one way or another.

Solutions also need to be considered at an individual level, as a one-size-fits-all approach rarely meets employees’ specific concerns. For example, flexible working is seen by staff as one of the best ways to attract and support older workers[ix] and can help to resolve issues such as a stressful workload or specific environmental needs.

When it comes to the working environment, there are small but impactful changes that can be made to support older workers. For example, persistent back pain is a condition that can worsen with age and is a leading contributor to missed work days.[x] Introducing adjustable desk equipment or more comfortable seating can make a big difference to preventing back-related conditions.

Upskilling and tackling negative perceptions
But it’s not just about providing the right equipment: as staff age, employers need to provide workers with appropriate skills to progress. A common perception of older workers is that they are stuck in their ways, or struggle with technology.[xi] But with older workers being hindered by a shortage of learning opportunities,[xii] it is an employer’s responsibility to regularly speak with their staff to identify skills gaps and provide training to ensure they remain confident in their role.

Such negative perceptions of older workers also need to be tackled head on. Inclusive working practices, skills sharing and positive messages around older workers can help to create a workplace where older staff are valued for their loyalty, skills and experience. Providing more age-friendly support will help UK organisations to harness this growing and increasingly important part of the workforce, bringing benefits to both their business and the wider economy.

Paul Avis, Marketing Director, Canada Life Group Insurance

[i] United Nations: https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/ageing/
[ii] ONS, UK Labour Market Overview, September 2019
[iii] Canada Life Group Insurance, Ageing Workforce research, issued May 2019
[iv] BBC Generation project: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190930-the-untapped-potential-of-the-longevity-economy
[v] Independent, 18th September 2019: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-inflation-cpi-pound-oil-economy-latest-a9109921.html
[vi] Canada Life Individual Protection research, March 2018
[vii] PwC Golden Age Index: How well are the OECD economies harnessing the power of an older workforce? 2018 update
[viii] Canada Life Group Insurance, Ageing Workforce research, issued May 2019
[ix] Canada Life Group Insurance, Ageing Workforce research, issued June 2019
[x] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet
[xi] Canada Life Group Insurance, Ageing Workforce research, issued June 2019
[xii] People Management, 17th October 2018: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/older-workers-training-options-very-very-thin

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