Older workers: the challenges of keeping them engaged and productive

8th October 2014 by The Harried House Hunter

Back in July I wrote here about the rapidly increasing number of older workers in the UK – and also the need to keep these key employees engaged with their job and/or employer .  This is going to be really important if the UK economy is to remain competitive.

Given the above, I am somewhat alarmed by some of the findings in the recently published Jelf Employee Benefits Survey [Click here to view the 2014 Jelf Employee Benefits Survey.], which suggests that employers may be falling at the very first hurdle when it comes to keeping older workers both motivated and engaged.

So which findings are concerning me the most?

Of biggest concern are the responses from older employees at, or around, retirement age.  The Default Retirement Age (DRA) was abolished in October 2011, and since that date most have had the legal right to continue working regardless of their age.  Yet despite these new rights, few have seemingly been told anything by their employer about this.  Less than 1 in 3 older workers (29%) had been told by their employer of their right to work past the now abolished DRA, with more than half (51%) only becoming aware of this via media coverage.

Another finding of note is that 21% of the employers surveyed restricted some employee benefits for older employees.

Even those employers that do continue to offer older employees the same benefit as their younger colleagues (58%) may have some work to do.  Some 43% of employers were not aware of their insurer’s maximum age limit for Group Risk benefits, and 44% of respondents had not reviewed their contract of employment promises to employees in light of recent legislation changes.  This lack of knowledge as to the nature of promises made and the benefits in place could potentially lead to major problems.  Older employees may not be aware that valuable protection cover has ceased, and in some cases employers may in effect be self-insuring a significant risk for such employees.

Taken together, these findings suggest that corporate procedures in the post DRA world are, as best, inconsistent across British business.  At worst they leave both employer and employee exposed to risks that could be safely avoided with better communications and planning.

Which takes me back to my starting point – engagement with older workers.  It’s generally accepted that workers of any age are less likely to be engaged – and therefore productive – if their lines of corporate communication are poor.  That’s bad enough, but imagine how much worse that engagement level will be when the employee is learning nothing about important changes to their working conditions and/or employment rights.

Older workers are set to form a much greater percentage of the UK workforce in the near future.  Earlier this year the ONS found that there was a significant increase in the numbers working beyond age 65 – with 100,000 more such workers in the last year alone.  Given this, it is surely time that employers focused their attention on keeping this key demographic within their workforce motivated, engaged, and at maximum productivity.

Steve Herbert is Head of Benefits Strategy at Jelf Employee Benefits 

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