The government is encouraging staff to work longer – but ageism is still rife in UK companies

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In the wake of the government’s Fuller Working Lives report, the 2015 expansion of the right to request flexible working for all, and the 2011 abolition of the default retirement age, the UK is seeing a clear move towards a more age-diverse workforce, where everyone is encouraged to work longer into traditional ‘old age’.

However, concerns have been raised that older employees are subject to marginalisation and ageism in the workplace.

With over 50s accounting for nearly a third (30%) of the UK workforce, worrying research from workplace consultants, Peldon Rose, shows that older workers are the least content of all employees with less than a quarter (23%) of the 55+ age group feeling appreciated by their company – while 80% say they have suffered from workplace stress. 

The research suggests that older workers are feeling side-lined, as less than a fifth (17%) believe that their company values their opinion, and do not respond to the same benefits and reward strategies as younger workers.

Concerns about ageism have been borne out by a study at Angela Ruskin University whereby nearly 900 pairs of false applications – one from a fictitious 28-year-old white British male, the other from a fictitious 50-year-old white British male – were sent out to UK companies.

Despite an emphasis on his physical wellbeing, the older applicant was 21.9% less likely to be invited for interview when compared to the younger applicant – and was invited to interview for vacancies offering 9.9% lower wages than the younger jobseeker.

Jitesh Patel, chief executive, Peldon Rose, the office design specialists, says: “With millions of workers remaining in employment into their 60s and 70s, employers face the unexpected challenge of accommodating diverse generations of employees under one roof.  As businesses aim to balance the needs and desires of both older and younger workers within the modern workplace, our survey findings have demonstrated that it is often the older workers who are being over-looked and under-valued by employers, leading to poor wellbeing and motivation. 

“Instead of focusing on office gimmicks and wellbeing policies that they feel will appeal to the youngest employees at the expense of their more experienced workers, businesses should seek to understand the needs of the whole workforce. Failure to do so could result in higher attrition of the older staff who have been the backbone of their business and have valuable knowledge and experience which could be imparted on to the younger generations.”

Dr Nick Drydakis, reader in economics at Anglia Ruskin University, comments: “Our data was collected after the Equality Act 2010 was enacted. That we still find compelling evidence of ageism suggests that legislation has not been sufficient to eliminate age discrimination. In this study, because we have controlled for the older applicants’ mental and physical capacities, simple prejudice against people aged over 50 is likely to be the reason for ageism.”