Let’s have a BBC1 controller who understands the over 50s

Alarm bells ring with the announcement that 37-year-old Danny Cohen, the youngest ever controller of BBC1, intends to show more programmes aimed at older viewers. 

Recognising that the BBC’s core audience is now typically around 50 years old (the younger demographic preferring other pursuits or channels) the beeb is belatedly and no doubt rather reluctantly acknowledging that catering for the old codgers therefore must become a priority.

Not wanting to prejudge the situation (while desperately wishing it was easier to be optimistic), one’s heart sinks upon hearing that Mr Cohen was previously in charge of the ‘youth channel’ BBC3 which commissioned shows such as Hotter Than My Daughter, and that he now wants BBC1 ‘to be known for being innovative and experimental’.

So what sort of innovative things is he planning for us then? Well, the big news is that next year BBC1 will air the largest live natural history broadcast in the BBC’s history following animals’ struggle for survival over the first four weeks of their lives. Mr Cohen commented that it will be “one which is likely to appeal to older viewers”.

Watch that space… for as long as you can bear to.

Old attitudes towards age

Ageist stereotypes are alive and well according to a recent depressing survey from financial services company Engage Mutual. They conducted a study with 2,000 people of all ages in Great Britain looking at perceptions of age and what people think are the ‘give-aways’ of getting old.

The top three signs of ageing highlighted by the poll were: falling asleep in front of the television, feeling stiff, and groaning when you bend down. Others included struggling to use technology, choosing clothes and shoes for comfort rather than style, and starting to drive very slowly.

Although some indicators such as forgetting people’s names, and losing hair (baldness) – while at the same time becoming more hairy (ears, face, eyebrows, nose etc.) – are regrettably unavoidable, the majority of the factors are behavioural. They can be overturned by older people making the effort to do things differently such as stopping groaning when you bend down/stand up, not talking about “senior moments”, and ceasing unnecessary complaining.

Why should we? Well, it would be good to pass this off as a light-hearted survey of older people’s charming idiosyncracies (perhaps no 21 was lacking a sense of humour about ageing?) –  but unfortunately the problem goes deeper than that.

If people of all ages still think of older people in these terms (including older people themselves), no wonder our prospects on the job market are so poor.

top 20 signs of getting old

1.       falling asleep in front of the television

2.       feeling stiff

3.       groaning when you bend down

4.       losing your hair

5.       hating noisy pubs

6.       thinking teachers / policemen / doctors look really young

7.       becoming more hairy – ears, face, eyebrows, nose etc.

8.       struggling to use technology

9.       forgetting people’s names

10.   not knowing any songs in the top 10

11.   choosing clothes and shoes for comfort rather than style

12.   you start driving very slowly

13.   drinking sherry

14.   when you start complaining more about things

15.   joining the Women’s Institute

16.   misplacing your glasses / bag / car keys

17.   you talk to colleagues who are so young they don’t know what an opal fruit is

18.   listening to the Archers

19.   moving from Radio One to Radio Two

20.   allowing yourself a mid-afternoon nap



Let’s have a Minister for Older People who understands being older

Anchor, England’s largest not-for-profit provider of care and housing is running a national campaign to petition the UK government to appoint a Minister for Older People.

Despite having a Minister for Women and another for Children and Families we have no government minister representing older people even though we make up 40% of voters.

Many governments around the world, including Ireland and Canada, have such a minister while both Wales and Northern Ireland have an Older People’s Commissioner.

At face value this seems a worthwhile campaign. As the number of older people increases a single minister could help ensure that the views and interests of the over 50s receive the attention they deserve.

However if such an appointment is made, it is vital that the post goes to someone with a genuine interest in and appreciation of the entire, diverse range of issues that relate to the 50 year or so time span that comprises “older”. Merely considering only the challenges of the elderly will not do. In addition, such things as pensions, caring responsibilities and continuing inherent age discrimination in the workplace are just a few of the key issues for those at the younger end of the “older” spectrum.

Allowing much-needed ongoing policies to be sabotaged by party politics will also not be helpful.

We also need someone who is older themselves (not difficult to find amongst government ministers) but who, for once, is prepared to talk about “us” and not “them”.

Visit http://www.gopetition.com/petition/44649.htmlto  to sign Anchor’s petition.


The word is out – older workers welcome!

Thebigword, one of the country’s fastest-growing and most successful companies, has put out a call for workers aged 40 and above to fill more than 30 vacancies.

thebigword is a multinational translation and interpreting company which provides language services to national governments and some of the world’s biggest companies. Recently named as one of The Sunday Times 100 fastest-growing international companies, it is looking for a wide range of candidates with both industry-specific and more general skills.

CEO Larry Gould (in the 50-plus category himself) says: “It’s great to employ young people who bring tremendous energy and excitement to the workplace but we also need to balance this with the experience and considered approach of older employees”.

“Although older people represent a small percentage of our total workforce, they’re amongst our most successful and long-standing employees. What’s frustrating is that we’re not getting good job applications from older people despite this age group suffering from high unemployment.”

Currently, employees between ages 40-49 represent only 6.19 per cent of thebigword’s 510 employees and those aged 50-plus represent only 3.41 per cent. The largest single age group in the company is 25-30 year-olds which comprise 45.5 per cent of the company’s workforce.

Obviously the company will need to be careful not to exhibit positive discrimination in its selection procedures.

That aside, it is enormously heartening and refreshing that such an entrepreneurial organisation is actively supporting and recognising the value of older workers. Let’s hope many other enlightened organisations follow suit by similarly openly encouraging older workers to apply for their vacancies.


Older workers and performance appraisals – it takes two to tango

According to recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development* older workers are being neglected in terms of training and performance management.

 Having surveyed 2,000 employees they found that less than half (46%) of respondents aged 65 and above had had a formal performance appraisal either annually or more frequently compared to 65% of the overall workforce.

Unfortunately the CIPD report tells us nothing new; research shows that for decades older workers have been disregarded for training and development often with the excuse that “they aren’t interested” or “they’re resistant to change”.

The advantage of the recent anti-discrimination and equality legislation is that it gives older workers the right to be treated equally i.e. to insist on the same treatment as their younger colleagues in terms of performance appraisals and training and development activities. But, they need the motivation to take such a stance

While employers need to be reminded of the advantages of performance management for all (65% falling well short of an adequate percentage) equally older workers need to be encouraged to be proactive in requesting performance appraisals and related development activities.

For many this may involve working out with their manager or employer how best to pass on their skills and experience to younger, less experienced colleagues, to the benefit of the company, their colleagues and themselves. 

As my own recent research has confirmed, most older people are highly motivated by concepts of contribution, giving back and developing others. Reverse mentoring may also be beneficial as a means of helping older people keep up to date with new practices and developments, while having the additional effect of improving intergenerational communication and teamworking.

Employers are missing a trick by failing to utilise the natural conduit that is the performance appraisal as a means of instigating these and other activities.

*’Employee Outlook: Focus on an Ageing Workforce’ available from the CIPD

Doom, gloom and retirement age change

Apparently, as reported in Small Business, a survey of 1,000 small and medium-sized enterprises conducted by an organization called Employment Law Advisory Services (ELAS) reveals that more than half of the UK’s small firms are unprepared for the impending abolition of the default retirement age.

According to Peter Mooney head of employment law at ELAS and therefore a person with a particular point to make, the majority of small firms are aware of the rule changes and when they will take effect, but many still struggle with how to apply the new rules.

 ‘Expensive death-in-service benefits and healthcare benefits are just two examples of how employing older workers will affect businesses,’ he comments. ‘Risk assessments, access requirements and adjustments for disability may also need revision as workforces grow older.’

He continues, ‘It seems many businesses haven’t actually thought through how the new law will affect them in practice….most of the respondents are unprepared for the rising cost of private health insurance, as well as workplace adjustments for staff with disabilities’.

Well, there’s a one-sided view of how things are. In fact, small businesses have long been those who have disregarded the notion of “retirement age” and happily kept on particular older workers for their skills and experience for as long as was mutually beneficial. It is regrettable that, alongside the raft of other employee-related legislation that may be helpful to those employed by larger organizations, small businesses now have to amend their practices to fall in line with a model that was never really meant for them. But, that being the case, it would be helpful to paint a more positive picture (although that would hardly win ELAS any new clients).

For example there are many benefits related to older people working longer including, for small businesses, stability, the retention of skills and expertise and a ready source of on the job training and development for younger workers. How many businesses large or small have actually thought through these and other positive aspects of how the new law will affect them in practice?  Pointing out some of these benefits to employers would be more helpful in the current climate than scaremongering and painting an unrealistically negative picture of the changes.

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