At last, some evidence: older workers as productive as other employees

A new study by Age UK has found that older workers are as productive as their younger counterparts.

Research carried out by Essex Business School, on behalf of the charity  found that there was little evidence to back up disparaging but engrained stereotypes of older workers when it comes to productivity, health, commitment and flexibility.

They found that despite assumptions made by many employers, older workers are motivated and as willing to work as flexibly as younger workers.

They also found that while there was evidence of decline in some physical attributes in some, but not all, older workers,  there was little sign of a decline in overall productivity as older workers compensated for declines with skills and experience.

For further information see

The Ageing Workforce – What’s Your Strategy?

A new primary research report ‘The Ageing Workforce – What’s Your Strategy?’ has just been released by an organisation called Talent Smoothie. In it, they ask 850 ‘baby boomer’ employees (their term) for their views on retirement versus working longer.

They also ask 13 organisations their views on the ageing workforce and what plans they have for change. Its case studies feature examples from Barclays Wealth, BMW, Coursera, GSK, Sodexo and Vita Needle; all of which, they report, are already anticipating, recognising and responding to ‘the ageing workforce trend’.

In their description of the report they say, ‘We invite you to read our report and then answer this question, Is your organisation taking this subject seriously enough?’

I think we know the answer to that one.

Older worker stereotypes overturned

A new academic study confirms that almost all negative generalizations about employees over the age of 40 are untrue.

A recently published article, Evaluating Six Common Stereotypes about Older Workers with Meta-Analytical Data by Thomas W.H. Ng (University of Hong Kong) and Daniel C. Feldman (University of Georgia) presents the findings of an analysis of around 400 studies of older workers’ performance.

The paper finds that nearly all negative stereotypes about this group are unfounded and suggests, as the number of older workers continues to increase, that managers should reconsider widely-held misconceptions that often lead to age discrimination.

The study examines six of the most common and damaging stereotypes: i.e. that, compared with younger workers, older employees are (1) less motivated, (2) less willing to engage in training and career development programs, (3) more resistant to change, (4) not as trusting, (5) more likely to experience health problems that affect their work, and (6) more vulnerable to work–family conflicts.

The authors found empirical support for only one of those stereotypes. Older workers, on average, are indeed less likely to engage in career development—an attitude that relates, at least in part, to training programs designed for younger employees. The five other stereotypes were unfounded.

For further information, see

How to make an older worker an ideal worker

A recent blog from the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College raises some interesting questions about what employers take into account when they consider an “ideal worker” and how this conflicts with the career ambitions of many older employees.

One wonders what it will take, bearing in mind current levels of unemployment and the likelihood of prolonged recession, for employers to stop pursuing the current full-time, presentee, long-hours model of employment. Surely it’s time to take on board that those who work in ways that best suit their own situation and motivation – whatever their age – will be those who perform  at the highest levels and are the most engaged, productive and loyal?

Yet again, the ‘one size fits all’ model fails most people. These issues aren’t about age or gender but about lifestage, ability and circumstances. The more employers start to address these, the more that ‘diversity’ issues – particularly the problems of an ageing workforce – will start to recede.


You can teach an old dog new tricks



Guest Blog by Stephen Mutch, Employment Associate, Pannone LLP

Older Employees can take a joke but more fool you if you think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks

When the age discrimination legislation was first introduced back in 2006, a large number of claims were expected based on ageist comments being made in the workplace. This was based in part upon a concern that age related comments simply did not have the same taboo as those based around gender or race and, as such, were more likely to occur. Jokes based on age were (and still are) regularly seen on TV and in greetings cards etc and were heard around the workplace – Bob’s first car was a T-model Ford is one that sticks in my mind.

However, a deluge of age-based claims simply didn’t happen and hardly any reported decisions based around hurtful ageist comments were seen, with most claims under the age discrimination legislation dealing with the application of benefits based on length of service. Perhaps people are less ageist than we gave them credit for, or perhaps the comments are out there but the recipients accept them as within the course of normal office banter.

Not so for Mr James, claimant in the recent case heard before the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) James v Gina Shoes who, rightly, challenged the position he found himself in.

During the course of being disciplined for poor performance Mr James was told by his manager that if he was younger he could be trained up (he was in his early sixties) but you ‘can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.

Unsurprisingly, the EAT held  that such comments created an indication of an inclination to discriminate on grounds of age, and consequently found that age discrimination had taken place that led to Mr James’ subsequent resignation,  and that the employer was required to prove it had not discriminated against him.              

The case is a timely reminder that ‘off the cuff’ comments touching upon the age of colleagues can land an employer in hot water and that any equal opportunities training can usefully include a refresher on age-related comments. For older employees and jobseekers it also shows that a job that involves regular training is not one they are excluded from or one that they won’t thrive at doing.  As inmyprime wrote in a previous post, with people expected to work for longer, training for older employees is increasingly reported, a fact highlighted by the BBC two programme ‘The town that never retired’.

What motivates retirement?

“Many older people retire out of despair, not out of desire”. I was struck by the poignancy (and accuracy) of this statement which is a comment on the position of older workers taken from a recent press release from National Seniors, Australia’s consumer lobby for the over-50s.

The release relates to National Seniors’ recent report, Stereotype Threat and Mature Age Workers which reveals that many older workers’ perceived belief that they’re the target of demeaning stereotypes such as frailty, inflexibility and a fear of technology is pushing them towards premature retirement.

The report revealed that 56% of those surveyed suffer medium to high levels of what they term “stereotype threat”, with a further 42% experiencing low stereotype threat.

The experience of stereotype threat was linked with negative workplace attitudes and behaviours on the part of older workers including: lower job satisfaction; lower emotional commitment to the organisation; lower job involvement; higher retirement intentions; and greater intentions to quit.

Personal comments about this situation from older workers included several more which struck a chord, including:

“I sometimes feel that I am invisible because of my age. I have difficulty at times with getting people to include me and listen to me.”

“I’m constantly overlooked in favour of younger people, I’m starting to think I’m hopeless and useless.”

The report calls for more positive older role models, stronger anti-discrimination policies, increased training opportunities and greater recognition of mature age staff. Once again this is not UK research, but it resonates with the position of many older workers here.

You can access the press release at:

Past our sell-by date?

Last week’s news that the government is advocating removing sell-by dates from food packaging in order to cut waste and save shoppers money (apparently the UK throws away about £12bn of edible food each year) resonated strongly in terms of how we treat older people.

“Past your sell-by date” is now a common term for older people who are no longer considered to be at the top of their game.

Obviously, like food, outer packaging plays a great part in decisions about them/us too. No longer looking young can be detrimental in terms of how older people’s performance and skills are perceived regardless of their inherent abilities.

In effect, the government removed the sell-by date for workers by removing the default retirement age. However, what we all need to tackle now at an individual and societal level are perceptions around declining usefulness and lack of value simply based on ageing packaging.

At the moment far too many older people are being thrown on the scrap heap when what’s inside them is still as good as it ever was.

A quote from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on the topic of date stamping on food said: “I can understand when people – particularly young people starting out with shopping – look at these dates and say ‘I’m not sure about this; better throw it away’.”

Seems as though that reflects what is often thought by younger managers about older employees


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: doing the right stuff

Back in 1992 an academic article* was published examining differences in the rates of career progression between male and female managers. It took the approach of examining the importance for female managers of “doing all the right stuff” in terms of the behaviours that their male counterparts demonstrated that got them promoted (e.g. getting a similar education as the men, maintaining similar family responsibilities, working in similar industries, not moving in and out of the work force, not removing their names from consideration for transfers).

While, unfortunately, the article demonstrated that doing all these things was still not enough to overcome the significant disparities in men’s and women’s salary progression and geographic mobility it was a fascinating approach and one which might usefully be applied to improving the position of older workers in today’s employment arenas.

It appears from numerous reports that discrimination against older workers, despite legislation, is still ingrained and invidious across many workplaces even though it is no longer acceptable for older workers to be turned down or disregarded for opportunities due to vague notions of inadequacies relating to their age. This being the case, identifying what “the right stuff” is for employees within a particular organization could at least open a dialogue and potentially make the achievement of those qualities more accessible to older workers.

Taking this perspective would help clarify exactly what the key behaviours for success are considered to be within that organization. For example, if employees are expected to be “dynamic” and “innovative”, what types of behaviours demonstrate this? What might younger people be doing in behavioural or attitudinal terms that their older colleagues are not?  Having decided this, those of any age who required development to better achieve and exhibit those behaviours could then be given support to improve their position and performance and their chances of future employment success.

One of the criticisms which is often leveled at older workers is that they are resistant to training and development activities. Research has shown that where this occurs this may be because they perceive the training on offer as irrelevant to their needs. Perhaps this approach might engage older individuals more and help to bring them into organization-wide talent development programmes that at present, seem to largely exclude the over 50s.

In the worst case scenario such an exercise would at least demonstrate – as in the article mentioned above – that even doing all the right stuff will still not be enough to ensure older workers receive the same opportunities as younger people.

Hopefully, though, any organization that had been through such a process would have improved recognition of the need for fairness for all.

* All the right stuff: A comparison of female and male manager’s career progression. Linda Stroh, Jeanne Brett and Anne Reilly, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 77(3), Jun 1992, 251-260

The double whammy of age and gender

There’s bad news and good news in the recent report from the journal Accountancy Age that male accountants over 45 currently earn 60% more than female counterparts. 

According to a Career Benchmarking study released by the ICAEW and recruiters Robert Half, the average basic salary for a male accountant over 45 is £98,400, while their female colleagues’ average is £60,500. This difference increased in the past year, with women aged 46-55 seeing their wages drop by an average of 10% from last year’s figures, compared with just a 1% drop for males.

This is obviously bad news for older women who in some form appear to be suffering the double whammy of age and gender discrimination. Possibly this harks back to the opportunities, expectations and aspirations of these women when they were younger leading to decisions which are now reflected in their current situation.

The good news is that for younger accountants the difference is much smaller. Females under 30 receive an average wage of £47,300 (an increase of 3% from the previous year) while the average male salary is only 4% higher at £49,300 (a decrease of 5% from the previous year). So if the present trend continues we will not see this situation in the future.

Putting aside the issue of why male salaries should be higher at any age, one hopes that this near-parity will continue throughout these younger women’s working lives and not be derailed by issues relating to childcare and work-life balance.

When do apprentices become too old to learn?

Apparently this week is Apprentice Week. It’s an initiative being run by the National Apprenticeship Service to highlight the value of Apprenticeships.

 A visit to their website makes interesting reading in that today, apparently, the words “young” and “apprentice” appear to have become synonymous. Yet the meaning of “apprentice” per se is only that of a learner of a craft who is bound to serve his teacher/employer for a period of time in return for their instruction. Age doesn’t come in to it.

As you will see from our last posting, we believe that age equality means equal opportunity for all regardless of age. Companies such as Centrica, B & Q and Sainsbury’s have extended the age range of their apprenticeship schemes to include older applicants, with the result that apprentices are now chosen from all ages – even those well into their fifties – resulting in measurable benefits for all concerned.

Businesses desperately need incentives to help them introduce and implement more age friendly policies. Extending the  new apprenticeship scheme (the Apprentice Grant for Employers – AGE ) which offers employers a £2,500 grant for each 16 or 17-year-old apprentice taken on would be a splendid way forward particularly in those areas and industries where there are jobs and/or skills shortages.  At the very least, reminding everyone involved to remove the preface “young” from “people” when talking about apprentices and apprenticeships would be a positive start.

NB:  Interestingly a 2009 report on Diversity in Apprenticeships which is listed on the National Apprenticeships Service site reviews gender, ethnicity and disability – but makes no mention of age.

Young, old …or optimum?

Last week we attended the launch by the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) of their new research report Working Better: the over 50’s – the new work generation.

At the launch, David Frost, Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce dragged out the old chestnut about how keeping older people in work reduces  job opportunities for younger individuals. You can see from our earlier blog posts that for numerous reasons we consider this a fatuous argument.  First, dispensing with an older person does not mean that someone from the opposite end of the age scale will step into their shoes. Second, the model that sees that the removal of an older person means an upward move for all below them (and the creation of a new job at the lowest level) does not represent the complexity of the situation in reality. Third, it means that everyone is seen as interchangeable in terms of skills, experiences and suitability for the job.

A long list of other points could follow – all of which would demonstrate that the argument is about as meaningful as proposing to remove all women from the workplace to make room for men. It could be done – but there is no moral, rational or business reason to underpin why.

What we MUST do, for reasons of fairness and equality for all, is to remove age from the equation. In practice employers generally realise that they need a range of skills, abilities, experience, stability, mobility, fresh blood and old hands in order to add up to the optimum workforce mix. The cost of these elements will vary – it is for them to decide where the value lies. Linking employment policies to chronological age does nothing to help employers or employees, and has an enormous potential to be hugely damaging when bandied about by policy makers who have little to do with pragmatic decision making.