No to age unconscious bias, says Punter Southall Aspire

Steve Butler wants to see an end to discriminating older workers

The major challenge for organisations in overcoming age unconscious bias in the workplace is they exist in an ageist society in which it is difficult to escape, warns Steve Butler, CEO at Punter Aspire.

Steve shares his perspective on unconscious bias around age in a new documentary from the Chartered Management Institute entitled, ‘Workplace in Review: Age’.

He says, “Unconscious bias is everywhere – in our language, TV images, the way we treat older people in society. Unfortunately, this makes it hard for firms to overcome, and most are just ignoring age discrimination.

Unconscious bias plays out in the workplace through stereotypes. It’s easy to stereotype an older worker as being no good with technology, not wanting to be involved in training or not being ambitious. These assumptions are rife in the workplace and can impact individuals and shape their behaviour.

“By failing to recognise this, firms will lose older workers. They want to save money, so choose to make older, senior people redundant. This is not great for the individual as they want to end their career on a high, but equally, it’s no good for the organisation as they lose experienced talent. At a time when UK firms are struggling to recruit, holding on to older workers has never been more vital.”

Wanting to rest less

An analysis last month by the over-50s digital community, Rest Less, highlighted that more than 700,000 Britons over the age of 50 have left the workforce since the pandemic hit. But a recent Office for National Statistics survey with people aged 50 to 65 who are not working found that two-fifths would consider returning to the workforce.

Steve points to changing demographics which are also compounding the issue. By 2025, there will be one million more people 50 and over and 300,000 fewer people 30 and under in the workplace. Today, 19% of the population is aged 65 and over. In ten years, this will have increased to 22%.

Steve says, “Demographics are shifting, and people are leaving the workplace early. This is resulting in a real talent squeeze with fewer people joining the workforce from a smaller demographic at the younger end. Firms need to wake up and tackle age unconscious bias otherwise, their future business could be impacted.

Diversity and inclusion

“The solution to age unconscious bias is about calling it out and talking about it. It’s about normalising the conversation around age. As with all other areas of diversity and inclusion, we must put ourselves in the shoes of those individuals and understand what it’s like to be them and see how we can best work with them. It’s about getting the best out of people no matter what stage they are in their careers.

“The first step in dealing with this is to add age to the diversity and inclusion processes and always look through an ‘age’ lens. For instance, ensure recruitment adverts don’t discriminate and appeal just to younger workers. It’s also about opening channels of communication between the different age groups in the business; otherwise, conflict will arise.

“All research suggests multi-generational workforces are more innovative and productive. My older workers have more experience in managing client relationships, handling difficult conversations and delivering services to clients. Younger colleagues have the ability to challenge the way we do the work, they come with new ideas about the way that we should work and the way that we deliver work to clients.

“By getting the two groups to work together, we can offer a much better service to our clients. Organisations have the chance to turn the changing demographics into something positive for their business and to embrace the different skills, experiences and attitudes of each generation. Addressing age unconscious bias is key.”

To watch the documentary, click here.

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