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The UK workforce is ageing. Pension ages are rising (the State Pension Age is due to rise to 69 and may even go up higher as life expectancy goes up).
Not only are people living longer and having to save for longer retirements, but many older workers are rethinking how and when they want retire.
Phased retirement is an increasingly popular way to combine work and leisure while moving gradually out of the world of employment.
Employers are also recognising the value of extending working life, as older workers who delay retirement can contribute to their workplaces through mentoring younger employees, identifying opportunities for business expansion, drawing on their networks of contacts and assisting when additional input is needed.
Here are five tips I would give to SME owners to support older workers who want to stay employed and contributing to your organisation:
Look to older job seekers to fill job vacancies:
About 600,000 of people over fifty are actively seeking work and another half a million people are economically inactive but would like to return to work if the right job was available.
Many of them are in the job market having been made redundant from their previous jobs or returning to work after having had a caring responsibility.
It takes longer for older job seekers to find work than younger ones (two in five are out of work for over a year) and when they find work it is often far below their skills level.
This is a huge waste of knowledge in a country in which businesses complain about chronic skills shortages (especially small businesses).
SME employers can find skilled workers through the older job market.
Share older talent with business partners:
One of the ways in which SMEs differentiate themselves from large businesses with regard to managing age and work is their flexibility in workforce planning.
With a relatively small number of staff, an SME manager may find it difficult to make adjustments to help an employee who, for example, wants to reduce work hours or change her planned retirement date.
However, many SME managers are looking to their wider business networks in helping support their older employees make the adjustments they need in order to maintain employment.
Supporting older job changers can be mutually beneficial for all since the employee is not only supported in transitioning to a new stage of his career, but also is working where his skills are most needed.
Use older workers’ skills to think strategically about growing the business:
SMEs tend to be less proactive than large businesses in identifying medium-to-long term challenges and opportunities facing the business.
This isn’t because SME managers are less forward thinking than their counterparts in large businesses- they just don’t have the time or resources to devote to strategy.
Many SMEs are deploying responsibilities to older employees to planning for strategic planning for the business like finding new clients.
Older and more experienced employees, especially those who have been with the business for a long time, have the knowledge to identify how to secure and expand the firm’s business.
Consider how older employees can share their knowledge with younger employees:
Retirement is a unique job change in that it is usually known months - and maybe even years - ahead of time.
As such, both the employer and employee have time to plan for the exit. For the employer, this presents the opportunity to ensure that the older worker’s knowledge and experience.
Mentoring and other knowledge management processes can ensure that the employee’s assets (like work networks) aren’t lost when the employer leaves the business.
Older workers usually value opportunities to share their knowledge with colleagues, especially in advance of retirement, as they can take an inventory of the contributions they have made to the employer.
Have a conversation with older employees about their career plans:
The success or failure of innovative approaches to age usually hinges on the relationship between the employee and her manager.
If the employee feels able to discuss her career aspirations with her manager - including retirement plans - plus any support needed to extend working life, it is much more likely mutually beneficial arrangements can be reached.
Employers often worry that it is unlawful to talk to employees about their retirement plans.
However, guidelines from the government agency ACAS is clear: as long as you have had conversations with your employees about their careers throughout their working lives, you can also discuss retirement. This is because retirement is part of a career.
Ageing workplaces are affecting all types of British organisations. It is not just large businesses which are affected nor are they the ones with a monopoly of good ideas on how to better manage the older workforce.
SMEs are the most affected by ageing but may have innovative ideas as well.
I would like to hear your approaches to managing work and retirement and have set up a forum for discussion which you can find at www.facebook.com/agediversity. To find the good practice guide to age diversity which I have written specifically with SMEs in mind, go to www.agediversity.org.
About Matthew Flynn
Dr. Matt Flynn is a senior lecturer at Newcastle University Business School and the Director of the Centre for Research into the Older Workforce. His research interest focuses on the impact of ageing societies on the world of work. He has carried out research for the UK government and European Union and has conducted research in the UK, Germany, Japan and Hong Kong. He is currently leading an ESRC study which applying the Capabilities Approach to work to retirement transitions as well as a study for the Trades Union Congress on the impact of the abolition of the default retirement age on older workers.