Older workers – benefits and challenges

Written by: Fit for Work team | Posted in: Blog

olderworkforceAccording to government statistics, over 50s currently make up 27% of the workforce – and by 2020 this is predicted to rise to a third. And with 50% of over 50s planning to work beyond their state pension age, older workers now make up the fastest growing population of the workforce.

However, according to the Work Foundation’s 2015 ‘Living Long, Working Well’ report, 42% of over 50s have a chronic illness that can undermine their productivity, increase their absence from work or even force them out of work altogether. This means that employers need to be flexible and ready to accommodate older workers’ needs, many of which may be different to those of younger workers.

In order for older people to remain active, able staff members, employers will need to have a clear understanding of how their needs may differ from other employees’ and how they can cater for them. Occupational health services will often be able to help clarify the kind of conditions older people may experience and the different ways to support them. Any employers worried about their older staff members can phone the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 to get information and advice.

One way of helping to look after older workers – which was also recommended in the Work Foundation’s report – would be to allow flexible working options if required. Every employee has the statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of employment, but employers could choose to waive this for over 50s, allowing them flexible working from the beginning of their employment. This could mean that they work from home some days, they start and finish at different times or even that they work part-time.

Allowing older members of staff flexible working demonstrates clearly that you take their needs seriously and that they are valued members of your workforce. Doing so will help to ensure that older members of staff have higher morale, are less likely to take time off sick, and are also more productive when at work.

The charity Age UK also suggests implementing health and wellbeing policies in the workplace which are also designed to help mid-life and older workers. For example, many companies are now introducing free exercise classes to the workplace, to help staff keep fit and learn team working skills. A company with an older workforce could still easily implement this, but with a less strenuous activity, such as yoga.

An older workforce presents many new challenges for employers, but with the right support and flexibility, they can also be a fantastic asset to any business, bringing a broad range of skills and experience and opportunities to mentor younger workers to the workplace. With the number of older workers continuing to increase, they are a sector of the workforce that can’t afford to be neglected.

Visit the Fit for Work website or call the advice line on 0800 032 6235 to find out more information on Fit for Work.


Employers can prepare for Fit for Work by:

  • Changing their HR policy to accept the Return to work Plan alongside the Fit Note.
  • Inviting employees for a conversation about Fit for Work and the benefits it can bring them.
  • Referring their employees into Fit for Work, if they have been off work for 4 weeks or more.

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