Ageism in the workplace: are attitudes causing you to miss out on the most experienced talent?

5 min read | Yvonne Smyth | Article | Recruiting Skills shortages

Ageism in the workplace

As the ongoing skills shortages persist in the world of work – leaving some sectors on their knees – employers are honing in even further on how best to attract and retain exceptional staff. Recently, the value that more experienced professionals can bring to the workforce has been brought into the spotlight. In fact, older employees (generally defined as those aged 50+) can be a valuable source of top talent, as they likely have a breadth of experience, knowledge and skills under their belts after spending several decades in the workforce.

An ever-growing demographic

The Earth’s population is soaring – having increased from 7 to 8 billion people since 2010 – and people are living longer, meaning the number of people aged 50+ is constantly rising. This demographic is fast expanding; currently 38% of the UK population are aged 50+, but this is expected to increase to 42% by 2040.

Older workers are an ever-expanding pool of under-utilised talent that employers should be actively seeking out. In reality, however, some organisations are missing out on this vast supply of experienced workers – shockingly, according to our research, more than one-fifth (21%) of employers admit they don’t hire older workers and a further 24% are unsure if they do or not.

Older workers are keen to return to the workforce

Economic inactivity since the Covid-19 pandemic has primarily been driven by older workers, according to ONS statistics. In fact, 68.5% of the increased economic inactivity during that time was driven by those aged 50-65. Of the people aged 50-60 who left employment since the start of the pandemic, over three-quarters (77%) said they had expected to work for longer, and over half (57%) of people aged 60-70 said the same.

That said, there is hope to entice this demographic back into the workforce, as almost three-quarters (72%) of economically inactive people aged 50-65 would consider returning to work; this figure rises to a staggering 86% for those aged 50-54. Research from Age UK also backs up this data, as they say that the rising cost-of-living is drawing many people out of retirement and back into the workforce in order to maintain a comfortable standard of living.

Ageism is commonplace

The overwhelming majority (88%) of older workers believe it’s important for organisations to take action to prevent ageism in their recruitment processes, but only just over half (52%) of employers actually do so. For the 48% that do not, there could be consequences. 57% of over 50s would be less likely to accept a job offer if an organisation didn’t take steps to mitigate ageism, while 27% would consider withdrawing their job application entirely. Over one-fifth (21%) would consider raising concerns on an organisation’s review site, potentially damaging their reputation.

Ageism is evidently an all too common occurrence; almost half of over 50s (49%) believe their age has impacted their chance of a job offer. It’s vital that all employers are taking action to prevent this, or else risk struggles with staff attraction and reputational repercussions. To effectively welcome a greater number of older workers back into the workforce, age-based discrimination during recruitment processes must stop.

What older workers want vs. their reality

Our What Workers Want: Older Workers report found there to be a disconnect between the types of benefits the over 50s would like to receive from their employer and what they are actually being offered. 51% of older workers deemed a four-day working week as an important benefit, despite this only being on offer by 13% of organisations. Almost two-thirds (65%) would like flexible-working opportunities, which is 20 percentage points higher than the reality (45%). Other benefits frequently being offered to older employees include training opportunities (42%) and wellness programmes (41%), despite the fact that only 24% and 17% of over 50s actually desire these, respectively.

To attract older workers to their vacancies and encourage them back into the workforce, employers should be adapting their benefits packages to be more appealing to this demographic.

Download a copy of our What Workers Want: Older Workers report to discover more about what organisations can do to better attract and retain older, experienced employees.


About this author

Yvonne Smyth, Group Head of Equity, Diversity And Inclusion, Hays

Yvonne is the Group Head of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Hays plc, with over 23 years professional recruitment experience.

Yvonne spearheads Hays’ commitment to being recruiting experts by ensuring that our major recruitment linked activities and insights are designed to positively promote and create more diverse workforces and inclusive workplace cultures. Working directly with customers, in partnership with subject matter experts, community groups, and through colleagues, Yvonne has been responsible for creating and curating a suite of resources designed to inform, support and enable our customers to progress their D&I linked commitments and navigate their careers.

Yvonne is the national specialism director for Hays Human Resources, the largest HR specialist recruiter in the UK. She is responsible for the HR national strategy within this high growth and pivotal specialism consisting of over 70 consultants across 45 locations. Yvonne is also the national specialism director for Hays Legal and Hays Company Secretarial, a team of over 35 experts across 7 locations.

Recently Yvonne was featured in the SIA 2019 Global Power 150 Women in Staffing list, which recognises the female leaders and influencers in the global market space. Prior to joining Hays, Yvonne initially trained and qualified as a litigation.

articleId- 63840886, groupId- 20151