In this week's blog: Why the data on age and employment doesn't make sense...

I have a question for you: Is the number of employees aged 50 years and over in the UK increasing or decreasing?

If you’ve been reading my blogs over the past few months, you might think it’s obvious...

But take a moment to consider your answer.

As you may have guessed, it’s actually a bit of a trick question.

You see, the data is contradictory...

workplace-graph

Recent employment stats indicate massive growth in employment among people in their 50s and 60s.

There has been a rise of 305,000 in workers over 50, year-on-year, with 80,000 of them over 65.1 In fact, over half the rise in employment nationwide came from people between the ages of 50 and 64.

Some of this is down to changes in State Pension age, keeping many women (and some men) in the workforce for longer.2 And as longevity increases, many people simply don’t want to retire in their 60s. Or they might need to continue working, for financial reasons.

But then there is a trend which seems to conflict with these stats.

As I mentioned last week, research has shown that your chances of being made redundant are higher if you’re in your 50s.3workplace-lightbulb

In America, complaints are rife that older workers are being pushed out by employers at the very peak of their careers and earning power.4

And anecdotally, I’ve seen the same thing happening here, too – even though this kind of discrimination is completely illegal. When companies need to cut costs, older workers are often the first ones shown the door.

Not only that, but people in their 50s routinely complain that there is very little career progression,5 and that employers simply do not want workers in this age bracket,6 preferring to hire younger workers.  

But how can both be true?

How can workers in their 50s and 60s be both the fastest-growing segment of the working population – and the age bracket employers are most likely to get rid of and discriminate against…?

You may have your own explanation, in which case, I’d love you to drop me a line and tell me.

Personally, I suspect that the answer might lie in another report I read recently,7 arguing that many millennials don't want to work for SMEs, preferring large corporates such as Google, Amazon or Apple.

These corporations have a strong sense of mission. And not only do they have exciting, Silicon Valley-style workplace perks like games consoles, and free lunches, but they’re also perceived as offering a brighter career path.workplace-people

Younger workers say that they avoid SMEs for fear of lower job security (56 per cent), smaller salaries (46 per cent), and less career development potential (33 per cent).8

Yet the vast majority of employment in the UK is in SMEs.9

So is it possible that the people in their 50s and 60s who are being hired are going to SMEs – possibly for lower-grade jobs – while the millennials are going to the cooler corporates?

And in fact, that it’s these buzzy corporates who are busy laying off their older workers, who are not digital natives?

I’m guessing that’s the case.

But if it is, millennials need to open their minds. They're naturally selecting against themselves by ignoring SMEs, given how key SMEs are to the economy.

And corporations must stop assuming that age is a competitive disadvantage. Employers should evaluate all new hires and existing staff members on their expertise and fitness for their role, and learn to appreciate the skills, experience and networks that older workers can bring to the table.

They – we - have no choice. The population is ageing, and that means the workforce is, too.

A few years from now, the average age in your workplace will probably be higher than it is today. There's nothing anybody can do to change that, even if you wanted to. We can only adjust and prepare for it.

One thing I know for sure: We all need to be transparent about the age demographics in our own companies, so that we have a clear view of what’s really going on.

And we need to ensure that we're ready with a practical, comprehensive strategy to manage these challenges in our own workforces.

I’ll tell you more about how to get that strategy later in the summer.


[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/employmentintheuk/june2019 (Figure 4)

[2] https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13949

[3] https://www.ageuk.org.uk/latest-press/archive/older-workers-at-high-redundancy-risk/

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2019/05/15/how-middle-class-white-collar-professionals-became-disposable-and-discarded/#3a20d0435196

[5] http://www.onrec.com/news/news-archive/ageing-workforce-left-the-shelf-research-shows-lack-of-opportunities-for-over-50s

[6] https://joshbersin.com/2019/06/the-distressing-story-of-age-in-the-workforce/

[7] http://www.facilitatemagazine.com/news/news-analysis/gen-z-snubs-smes-while-firms-fail-to-prepare-for-ageing-workforce/

[8] http://www.facilitatemagazine.com/news/news-analysis/gen-z-snubs-smes-while-firms-fail-to-prepare-for-ageing-workforce/

[9] https://www.fsb.org.uk/media-centre/small-business-statistics

Posted by Steve Butler

Topics: Retirement, Age diversity

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