Age discrimination rife in the workplace

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Employers who overlook the skills of older workers will face talent shortages, the Centre for Ageing Better has warned

Significant numbers of older employees feel they are being discriminated against at work because of their age, including believing they have been turned down for jobs (9%) and offered fewer opportunities for training and progression (32%).

The survey commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better showed that 14% of over-50 employees believe that since turning 50 they have been turned down for a job due to their age.

Nearly one in five (18%) have or have considered hiding their age in job applications. Meanwhile nearly half (46%) think their age would disadvantage them in applying for a job. A third (29%) did not think their workplace values older workers, and 28% did not think their managers are good at managing mixed-age teams.

Few felt able to talk with managers about future career plans (28%), adjusting their current role by moving to flexible working for example (25%) or retirement (24%).

Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, but while 40% of employees over the age of 50 surveyed thought their workplace had a policy on preventing age discrimination, nearly half (47%) said it made no difference.

Businesses that do not retain and recruit older workers could face a labour and skills shortage, with experienced staff leaving and too few younger candidates to replace them, the report warned.

The Centre for Ageing Better urged employers to take steps to create an age-friendly workplace, including offering more flexible working options, hiring age-positively, ensuring everyone has access to health support, and encouraging career development regardless of age.

Enabling more people to be in fulfilling work longer would also benefit the economy, providing increased tax revenues and lowering the welfare bill, the research stated. It pointed out that halving the employment gap between workers aged 50 to state pension age and those in their late-40s could see nominal GDP increase by 1% (up to £20 billion per year at 2017 prices).

Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said that employers must work harder to retain and attract older workers: “The number of older workers continues to rise, with over 10 million over 50s in work last year. With job vacancies and numbers in work both at record levels, employers must act now to attract and retain skilled older workers or they will fall behind their competitors,” he said.

He added: “Employers risk losing their most experienced people and face labour and skills shortages. Every employer needs to become more age-friendly and take steps today to ensure they have a workforce for the future.”

Andy Briggs, the government’s business champion for older workers and Aviva CEO, UK insurance and global life and health, added that organisations must be prepared for an ageing workforce.

“This research should serve as a wake-up call – as life expectancy continues to rise, working patterns and career development will keep on changing as well. Already, nearly one in three workers is over 50, and employers must face up to the realities of an ageing population,” he said.

“Workplaces have to catch up with the seismic demographic change we are experiencing. Everybody must be supported to continually develop their skills and contribute their knowledge and experience over a much longer working life.”

YouGov was commissioned to conduct a survey of older workers in July 2018. The total sample size was 4,064 adults aged 50-plus, of which 1,134 were current employees.

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