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Not to be ignored

Older workers’ contribution to business is key
Roger Jeary, Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

The workplace at present is full of uncertainties and insecurity.  But one thing is certain. The workforce is getting older and workers, by choice or necessity, are working longer.  So what are employers and trade unions doing about this major demographic shift?


Employers frequently bemoan the shortage of relevant skills yet allow experience and skills leave through early retirement or redundancy.  Trade unions focus on pension rights for older workers while sometimes failing to ask older workers what they want from their employers.


A recent report from the CIPD stated that there are currently over 1.5m workers over the age of 50 in health and social work and more than 1.2m over 50 in both education and retail.


It’s doubtful that the replacements for these workers will be fully met by school leavers and many industries have a poor record on retaining older workers, seeing a large drop-off in the number of workers between the ages of 45–49 and 60–64.


The CIPD Report points in particular to finance, public administration and ICT all of which see a drop of greater than 60 per cent between the number of workers they employ in their late forties and in their late sixties. Such falls would suggest that these sectors are not doing enough to support longer working lives and will be hampered by the loss of skilled and experienced staff.


The TUC is currently engaged in a European funded research project “Workage” – a three year project led by Nottingham Trent University in partnership with Workplace Innovation Limited. It  aims to inform policy guidelines about the engagement and retention of older workers through the application of workplace interventions.


The TUC itself commissioned research last year looking at the challenges and opportunities for trade unions in representing an ageing workforce.


It produced seven key recommendations and, in particular, recognised the diversity within the older workforce – those that delay retirement because they want to while others that are compelled to work longer for economic reasons and others who want to work but are prevented from doing so by health reasons.


Trade unions need to provide support in many different ways to meet these diverse needs and workplace interventions offers a solution to some of them.


Workage is identifying and piloting non-age related workplace interventions that enhance the engagement of workers aged over 50 years and delay the intention to retire as well as developing evidence-based workplace practices.


Specifically, the interventions will focus on workplace innovation practices that enable people at all levels of an organisation to use and develop their skills to the fullest possible extent during their working lives.


Workage is concerned with four areas of workplace practice – work organisation, structures and work systems, learning and reflection, and worker engagement.  To help deliver and evaluate these interventions Workage has appointed three Change Facilitators from the two organisations being used to implement this project – Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland.


Workforce participation

Throughout the project participation of the workforce and their trade unions has been entirely voluntary and the output of the interventions will be monitored and evaluated during and at the end of the project.


Although only currently half way through the project, benefits are already being identified in workplaces where the project is taking place.


In Stoke, the mobile cleaning team have seen their ideas taken up and front line workers now participate in monthly meetings with management. In the Maternity Unit in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, the project has resulted in multi disciplinary team meetings now taking place monthly improving participation and removing duplication.


In both cases the introduction of greater participation of workers at all levels is resulting in improved morale and a sense of well being.


The project team will be measuring the impact of the interventions and will return to undertake another survey of all staff after 12 months to evaluate the work and examine what if any impact the interventions might have on older workers and retirement decisions.


Part of the Workage Project’s objectives is to disseminate to the widest possible audience the outcomes of the research and practices undertaken during the three year period.


It’s designed to develop workplace policy/practice solutions that can inform government policy on older workers and the workplace.


It will also generate rigorous evidence for practical solutions with strong links to policy thinking as well as supporting the scaling up of these innovations across Europe through the delivery of transferable lessons with a resource toolkit in pursuit of active and healthy ageing through prolonging working lives in a decent and fair manner.


The project will conclude in 2016 with major presentations being held across Europe. More detailed information about the project and the outcomes of the pilot schemes can be obtained from the project web site at www.workage.eu or by contacting Roger Jeary on rogerjeary@btinternet.com


  • Roger Jeary is the TUC Representative on Workage Policy and Dissemination Panel

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