Getting the most out of the ageing workforce

Reed Talent Solutions has been looking into the subject of ‘Internal mobility and the ageing workforce,’ holding a webinar and producing a whitepaper on the subject.

We asked Professors Andrew and Nada Kakabadse, from Henley Business School, to give an academic viewpoint on some of the issues – and opportunities - surrounding the ageing workforce.

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Professor Andrew Kakabadse (AK) is Chairman of the Henley Directors’ Forum and has undertaken global studies in board performance, governance, leadership, and strategy.

Professor Nada Korac Kakabadse (NK) is the school’s Professor of Policy, Governance and Ethics. She has extensive international government, private sector and academic experience focusing on subjects including governance, board performance, sustainability, and reputation.

What do you feel are the main issues around older workers in the modern workforce?

AK: One cannot treat a 50+ employee in the same way as a 25-year-old.

Older workers need training as much as younger workers - just as much, just as often. The training subject may differ, but the need is the same.

Older workers probably need benefits more than younger workers. For example, they need medical coverage, vision care, and financial planning.

They also have different motivational ‘hot buttons’ than their younger counterparts. For example, an opportunity for advancement is probably less important than the recognition for a job well done.

NK: Older workers can coach and encourage the younger workers. It is important to recognise the value of this experience.

There exists a prejudice concerning ageism based on the assumption that older workers find it difficult to contribute because of less resilience and energy. This is not true.

The critical issue is to be treated with respect and to undertake work of higher quality.

Additionally, older workers probably expect higher remuneration levels to match their experience and contribution. Most prejudice centres on older workers costing more.

What tools can be used to keep people in employment for longer without negatively affecting their health and wellbeing?

AK: The tools used for keeping people in employment longer should be precisely the same as for all other employees.

The critical point is the quality of contribution per task. In certain categories ages can be an issue – e.g., surgeons, air traffic controllers.

Middle and senior management jobs are more pressurised and this can have an impact on the health of employees and the well-being of these individuals.

Hence, attending technical skills programmes, leadership and team/coaching programmes, and the offer of counselling services should be made available to all.

How can organisations get the most out of ageing workers with a wide knowledge of the business?

NK: Organisations must periodically undertake skills audits of their workforce and management to determine what level of upskilling and performance improvement is necessary.

The experience of the older worker and their possibly more intimate insight into the business is of great benefit, especially after further development.

The critical issue is that ageing workers are generally more expensive, and younger workers receive less pay for the same work and are thus more exploited.

The critical contribution of the older worker is the experience and wisdom to navigate through sensitive dilemmas within the organisation and with stakeholders, which the younger workforce may find difficult to do.

In addition, older workers provide a higher quality of engagement, which is necessary for today's service and technologically comment organisations.

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