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How to avoid stereotypes with older workers

David Price

Q: With the workforce ageing, I want to ensure that I am supporting older workers in terms of their mental health. What do I need to consider?

A: Removal of the default retirement age and changes to pension entitlements have created a trend of older workforces. The change in the demographics is encouraging people to work longer both through financial needs and the personal desire not to retire at a specific age. An ageing workforce does present differing challenges for employers, namely managing the health and well-being of older workers, while maintaining a high-performing workforce.

A key factor in managing this successfully is the awareness of age discrimination at work for older workers. Stereotypes need to be challenged in a lot of industries as the general view that performance deteriorates and older workers are of less value unfortunately still prevails.

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Training and awareness for all managers should be put in place regarding equality and diversity to ensure that these stereotypes are diminished and that all employees have the same access to workplace benefits, training, promotions and opportunities.

Other possible options to support older workers include flexible working or reduced hours of work. Such options will be key in allowing older workers to stay on, while still enabling the next generation to take on more senior roles to encourage growth in organisations.

Although many older workers are healthier than ever before, and we should avoid assuming otherwise, health is still a crucial factor in whether someone should stop or continue working in the majority of cases. Many older workers with poor health continue working, but struggle with this, creating concerns for employers. This is why it is important for employers to monitor employees’ health and well-being. Engaging with an occupational health service will mean that if the need arises, you can assess whether any reasonable adjustments to roles should be made to support individuals with their changing health needs, while allowing them to remain in work.

It is a fact of life that physical and psychological changes occur with age, which may include reduced reaction times and slower performance in general. Although this is a stereotype in itself, it can be a real, pressing issue for employers and a sensitive area to even approach with an individual who may have been with an organisation a number of years. Having a service in place where employees can seek impartial and confidential advice can provide peace of mind for the employee and the employer alike. This should be incorporated alongside regular welfare meetings to stay aware of any concerns older workers may have, and enforcing positive action before a situation deteriorates.