Attracting and recruiting older workers

Recruiter Advice - Attracting and recruiting older workers -

Unfortunately, ageism and the challenges facing older workers are nothing new in the labour market, despite over 50s making up a third of the UK’s workforce[1]. However, with societal pressures and the billion-pound retirement industry relentlessly reinforcing the myth that work should stop at 65 to live a happy life, “retirement age” can often be an unhelpful moniker to have in the fight against ageism in the workplace.


And then came Covid-19…


The pandemic has significantly impacted the employment market and the myriad of demographics within it. Young people (16-24 years old) were undoubtedly the hardest hit due to Covid-19 but, next in line, older workers (50+ years old) are also disproportionately likely to have been furloughed or faced redundancy[2]. In fact, 31,000 over-50s were made redundant between May and July 2021 and, as of mid-September, there were still over 360,000 people aged 55 and over on furlough[1].


As a result, older workers may be more inclined to leave the labour market altogether, with evidence from previous recessions suggesting they will struggle the most to find a new job, even as the economy recovers. This would be a huge loss to the labour market, however, with this demographic having a wide array of attributes that can be invaluable to many businesses.


So, as the UK labour market attempts to realign itself following the end of the furlough scheme on 30th September, what can businesses gain from hiring older workers?


Reliability and retention


Older workers are usually very reliable, showing up to work on time and only calling in for genuine sick days. With a desire, and often need, to work, they tend to be hard workers driven by getting the job done right, using their wealth of skills and expertise to do so. And, there’s research to back it up. Of the businesses taking part in a study by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), more than three quarters said the experience of workers aged 50 or older was a main benefit of employing them in their organisation, followed by the reliability of workers in this age group and the mentoring older workers provide to new workers[1].


A survey from Nationwide also found that when older workers find the right job, they are less likely to ‘job jump’[1]. If they are employed in a role that matches their skill set and experience and are content with their work, they have little motive to switch jobs like their younger counterparts. This loyalty is invaluable to a business. Retention of knowledge and information supports business continuity, with said information and expertise available to be passed on to new joiners in the company.


Knowledge and experience


While this can be a tricky area, so as not to be ageist towards young people, there is an undeniable benefit to any business, for many roles and sectors, of having someone with the longevity of experience that comes from time spent in the workforce. 


With experience comes wisdom and knowledge, rich from different industries, departments, workplaces and cultures, however, the assumption of certain knowledge and experience – or lack thereof – can also go against older workers. An often natural assumption, for example, is that this demographic will not understand, or be as trainable as a younger, digital-native hire in this area. 


Employers who manage this balance carefully and make efforts in their advertising and language to not discriminate against either party will benefit hugely from a diverse workforce with varied experience and knowledge to share.


Leadership and mentorship


Older workers can serve as excellent mentors for younger or less experienced employees in a business. Often good leaders with the benefit of time under their belts, older workers are generally not digital natives and so have had to communicate in more traditional ways and means throughout their careers, which can bring a more comprehensive understanding and delivery of communication and people skills.


Decision-making skills


With knowledge and experience can come a considered, more collected approach to business and, thus, better decision-making. By recruiting the right person (not the next available), an employer can bring someone into the company with rich life and workplace experience, who is ready to start and be effective straight away. That’s not to say older workers don’t require thorough onboarding. Rather, the immediate effectiveness comes by way of ingrained critical thinking and the ‘on the ball’ ability to problem-solve without hand-holding or second-guessing their decisions.


Quality networks


Through tenure, older workers will usually have worked and built relationships with other departments and gained knowledge from the fundamentals of business such as finance, marketing, management and sales. Combine with years of building a network of suppliers, colleagues and customers, and companies have a potentially untapped source of opportunity and professional contacts available to them[3].


So with these no-brainer benefits and more, what can recruiters do to attract older workers into their businesses? 


Educate the business


Companies need to get to grips with age discrimination in its many forms and educate the existing workforce. With direct and indirect ageism perhaps more commonplace in day-to-day business interactions, this may be where companies need to tighten up first to make older workers feel more comfortable and confident to do their jobs. Harassment and victimisation must be dealt with immediately, and all four attributes to age discrimination handled following the Age Discrimination Act 2006[1].


Advertising best practice


Recruiters must be careful in their recruitment marketing not to ostracise any age groups, younger or older. Using an omnichannel approach – advertising the role on multiple social media sites and marketing channels, for example – will help to widen its reach and provide a far more diverse talent pool to select from. However, if hiring managers unnecessarily limit the advertising to one specific social media platform, this could suggest a discriminatory agenda if there is no reason for the role not to be suitable to all age groups and demographics. Putting all recruitment eggs in one basket won’t work here.


Define and refine what the business really needs


Before defining ‘who’ they want, companies must be confident and decide on ‘what’ they need first:


  • Specifying the skills required is an objective way of defining what person the company needs, as skills are not age-dependent. This should include what practical and soft skills are best suited to the job and must be highlighted in the attraction process. 
  • The experience required for a role should ideally focus on the type of experience rather than the longevity of experience. The latter will become apparent on CVs and at interviews. 
  • And finally, qualifications. Companies should look at these in an exploratory way rather than as a must-have. Some older workers might not have specific qualifications that younger candidates coming to the market are bringing, but many have valuable transferable skills and capabilities that, together with a fresh set of seasoned eyes on a business, can bring meaningful benefits for years to come. champions diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the workplace and recruitment marketing. Curating a workforce from different backgrounds, with varying levels of experience and expertise, enriches the knowledge and skills within a company and also provides multi-layered personalities and perspectives from which everyone can draw on and benefit greatly.


When looking ahead at your hiring quota and processes, consider widening your reach to an experienced, communicative and ready to work talent pool in the over-50s and reap the rewards of enriching your workforce with diversity.