Steps employers can take to halt the ‘great retirement’

...with many facing a skills shortage and struggling to recruit talent

The growing number of over 50 workers leaving the workforce since the start of the pandemic has been dubbed the ‘silver exodus’. It’s a trend employers need to reverse to ensure they don’t lose valuable talent, especially as the UK has an ageing population where one in three employees will be over 50 by 2025.

Recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found the number of economically inactive (neither working nor looking for work) people in their 50s and 60s has grown by nearly 250,000 since late 2019. They found the majority (53%) of this growth in economic inactivity was from retirement. 

For women, in particular, the impact of the pandemic on work has been significant. This year’s PwC’s Women in Work Index fell for the first time in its 10-year history. They highlighted the pandemic set-back progress towards gender equality in work by at least two years across Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. This was due to higher female unemployment and more women than men leaving the labour market during the pandemic.

Now firms need to prioritise retaining over 50 workers to keep valuable skills and experience within the business, particularly as many faces a skills shortage and are struggling to recruit talent. A recent report from Monster found that 87% of employers said they’re struggling to fill positions. Just over half said that finding candidates with the skills they needed was their main challenge.

Retaining talent

Retaining talent is far more cost-effective than recruiting. It’s estimated to replace an employee can cost, on average, between 6-9 months’ salary, which covers recruitment costs, training expenses, and salary. This will be higher depending on how senior the role is.

Retaining someone is cheaper since they already have the valuable skills, knowledge, and experience to do the job. In addition, the over 50s shouldn’t be written off because they are edging closer to retirement. Most are likely to be in the middle of their careers. Attitudes have changed, and many see themselves as working for another 15-20 years.

Some people don’t plan to retire at all and are starting new careers in mid-life, while others are coming out of retirement because they don’t have a sufficient pension for the lifestyle they want or because they are bored.

As the workforce and population age, employers will increasingly need to draw on the skills of older workers and find new ways to retain them. They are a valuable part of a multigenerational workforce and bring enormous benefits that companies can’t afford to lose.

What steps then can employers take to retain over 50s workers?

Promote age diversity through training

Businesses need to embrace different age groups in the workforce. People in their 20s and 30s through to those in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are now part of the workforce, and this shift is a clear reflection of the UK’s changing society.

Age diversity training can help managers understand these changing demographics and ensure they can recruit and retain the best talent and combat ageism.

According to research from 55Redefined, 39% of employers admit to being less likely to recruit people over the age of 50, and only 35% said they are prepared to retrain staff over that age. They also found that 92% of workers in their mid-50s and over are prepared to take a salary cut to learn a new skill. This is something employers could take advantage of.

Introduce flexible or remote working

Flexible and remote working proved to be a success during the pandemic, and many firms now have a hybrid working model. For older workers, this is a real benefit. The Centre for Ageing Better found that flexible working is the number one incentive older workers say would help them to remain in work, helping them to manage caring responsibilities and their own long-term health conditions.

For companies serious about retaining older people offering flexible, hybrid or part-time working can help. It’s something that will appeal across the workforce. A report by Timewise found that preference for flexible working is strong for both sexes: 84% of male full-time employees either work flexibly already or say they want to. For women, this rises to 91%, and younger workers want it the most (92%).

Consider sabbaticals

A recent article in Fortune suggested that sabbaticals are the latest weapon against the great resignation. More companies are offering these with Monzo, a fintech company one of the latest in the UK, to offer a three-month sabbatical to their 2,200 staff for every four years they work at the firm.

Giving older employees a sabbatical to enable them to recharge and take time to focus is likely to be appreciated. Taking a few months out, and doing something different such as travelling or volunteering on a project, enables people to return to work fresh and energised.

Focus on career development

All workers want to be challenged, but for older workers especially, this is essential to prevent boredom for those who may have been in the same role for several years.  Offering training and progression keeps people someone happy and motivated. Employers need to train managers to support workers of all ages and skill levels, initiating additional management training as needed.

Care for workers’ health

Encouraging an open culture where people feel comfortable discussing health concerns, as well as employers having appropriate support in place to help people manage health conditions, can make a big difference to someone staying or going.

The Centre for Ageing Better found that a quarter of workers with a health condition who are aged 55 and over were considering stopping work because of their poor health – compared to just 8% of those with a health condition aged 25-34.

Conduct a midlife MOT

Asking the over 50s what they want out of their careers is important, and introducing a Midlife review can stimulate conversations about next steps, career development and flexible career solutions. This is a crucial time, as this is an age where they may face age discrimination.

These reviews can really help companies make the most of their existing workforce, reduce the risk of losing valuable talent and ensure people can enjoy fulfilling careers and continue contributing as much as possible for as long as possible.

By Steve Butler, CEO at Punter Southall Aspire and author of four books, including Midlife Review: A guide to work, wealth and wellbeing and Manage the Gap: Achieving success with intergenerational teams.

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