Employers are facing two big challenges to the way they manage their people. According to a recent report by management firm Accenture, the most urgent problem facing businesses of all sizes is finding and holding onto their most talented employees. Alongside this, an ageing workforce is creating significant new challenges and opportunities which businesses may not just yet be making the most of.
By 2020 almost a third of workers will be 50 or over. Increasing life expectancy, improved health and rises in the age of the state pension, have resulted in people working longer. People are also choosing to work longer, both out of a desire to remain active in the workplace but also increasingly out of financial necessity. With this in mind, more and more employers have realised that having a diverse range of ages in their workforce helps to be more competitive.
Companies such as the pub chain JD Wetherspoon have found that by tapping into the strengths and values of workers of all ages they can access and develop a workforce that mirrors that of their customers. This is particularly important in areas like customer engagement where different age groups vary in their expectations of what constitutes an ‘excellent’ customer experience.
And while younger workers may naturally be thought of as having more enthusiasm for new technology, employers are increasingly recognising that older workers can bring a whole range of life experience and varied job skills.
Of course, all of these attributes are desirable but from an employers’ perspective the question is do they impact the bottom line?
The short answer is a definite yes. In 2009 McDonalds found that customer satisfaction levels were on average 20 per cent higher in outlets where they employed staff and managers over 60.
“[This] translates into sales and profits – and that is significant,” commented David Fairhurst, McDonald’s chief people officer in the UK, who attributed the improvement to the older workers’ additional experience, work ethic and customer relations skills. McDonalds also found that younger staff responded positively to having older colleagues around them, a factor confirmed by numerous other organisations.
Also, when British Gas opened up its apprenticeships to older people (its oldest apprentice being 56) it found that greater age diversity improved engagement and value within the training group as a whole, with older trainees often assisting less experienced team members.
Increasing its target recruitment market in this way meant that the company reduced costs, attracted a more diverse range of applicants and experienced an overall boost to its reputation as an employer of choice.
Many retailers and a number of the big supermarket chains have also chosen to increase their workforce age span in order to address recruitment and flexibility problems. For many older employees, the work place provides a positive social environment, with lasting relationships with both colleagues and customers. They value the opportunity to be able to continue working in a way that suits them, leading to greater worker retention and satisfaction.
Those businesses, both big and small, that are benefitting most from investing in all ages of workers have used three core practices to underpin their staff policy, namely:
· Making sure recruitment practices attract the widest range of talented applicants;
· Using the values inherent in different age groups – for example, older workers’ reliability and younger workers’ IT skills – to maximise productivity;
· And finally, recognising that success lies in training, developing and performance. Also managing all employees equally, regardless of their age, so the entire workforce is equipped to deliver outstanding performance and increased profits.