Older Workers: A valuable asset or a costly liability?

In their latest book, Doing the Right Thing; the Importance of Wellbeing in the Workplace, Theo Theobald and Cary Cooper remind us that employers are only just realising that “the accumulated wisdom of many older workers is a valuable asset and something that should be nurtured and farmed.”

However, many employers, here in the UK and across Europe, seem to think that older workers are a problem to be managed rather than a valuable resource to be celebrated. To them,most people over 50 are rigid in their thinking, unable or unwilling to learn new things and blocking the progress of younger employees. As a result, they often stop training their older workers, thereby denying them the opportunity to gain and improve their skills and knowledge.

Although that may have been acceptable in the past when there were plenty of bright young things tumbling out of universities full of ambition and knowledge, times, and the law, have changed.  The abolition of the Default Retirement Age (where you could assume that everyone would retire at 60, 65, or your normal retirement age) has seen some shortsighted employers complaining that they can no longer rid themselves of unproductive older workers through retirement. In that case, why are you employing unproductive workers? Why aren’t you managing their performance properly?  Why aren’t you training them? And why aren’t you using their skills and experience to bring on your younger workers?  

There has been a huge rise in the number of age-related tribunal cases over the past year, and the amount of compensation awarded for age discrimination is currently nearly double that of other employment cases such as sex and race discrimination. Refusing to train older workers and excluding them from promotion opportunities on grounds of age are covered by the new legislation, and employers could find themselves paying out if they are accused of ignoring older workers and leaving them to drift towards retirement.  

If we don’t take action now, a perfect storm will hit us.  We are all living and working longer and with pensions being squeezed, many people can’t afford to retire.  At the same time, employers can no longer force their older workers to retire.  To cap it all, recent research has highlighted that younger managers are struggling to manage their older colleagues well, which leaves older workers demotivated and disconnected from the workplace. Many management courses ignore the need to understand inter-generational differences. Just as what motivates the baby boomers will leave Generations X and Y cold, Millenials have a grasp of new technology that leaves their older co-workers standing. These differences, when properly understood, can be used by savvy employers to get the best out the whole workforce, but it does require thought, understanding and training.

10th December 2011

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About anitapickerden

Specialise in Work Life Balance and Older Workers Project Management Training, Coaching and Mentoring Enthusiastic Ceramicist Ask me about my PhD.
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