• A thriving jobs market that works for people of all ages is an essential component of any plan to build back better post-pandemic.
  • Demographic changes mean there are enormous and exciting opportunities for businesses ready to leverage the benefits that come from a multi-generational workforce.
  • People in their 50s and 60s need to have the opportunity to top up pension pots at this critical pre-retirement stage, or risk a later life marred by economic hardship.

The pandemic has given rise to one of the toughest employment markets in a generation with workers of all ages being impacted heavily. As with many previous recessions, younger workers are some of the first to be impacted, however official UK data is now beginning to show the concerning long-term impacts on workers in their 50s and 60s.

Over the past year, UK workers over the age of 50 have seen disproportionate percentage increases in unemployment levels and record numbers of employment-related benefit claimants. With the age at which people can access the state pension increasing across the globe, people in their 50s and 60s need to have the opportunity to top up their pension pots at this critical pre-retirement stage, otherwise many will risk a mid-to-later life marred by economic hardship for decades to come.

These risks extend beyond just the individual level but exist on both a societal and economic level – the risk of losing a generation of skills and experience from the workforce is a concern for all of us. A thriving jobs market that works for people of all ages, with age-inclusive and intergenerational workforces contributing to productive and successful teams, is an essential component of any plan to build back better post-pandemic.

Getting older

Our society is ageing and we are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. In the UK, government data shows that a little girl born in 2019 can expect to live until she is 90 (88 for boys). This is mirrored on a global scale: according to the International Longevity Centre’s report entitled “The Global Longevity Dividend”, people aged 50 and over now account for approximately 28% of the G20 population – an increase of 8% since the year 2000 and a figure which is predicted to increase to around 35% by 2035.

Image: ILC report The Global Longevity Dividend

This seismic demographic shift has profound implications for individuals, businesses and society, not least in the workplace. In order to fund our longer lives, many of us are having to work longer than we planned or expected. For some, it’s a financial necessity; for others, it’s an active choice as they reap the rewards of the social interaction and sense of purpose that meaningful work can provide.

Benefits of a multi-generational workforce

The demographic changes we have seen in recent decades have resulted in up to five generations actively participating in the workplace together for the first time. This presents enormous and exciting opportunities for businesses ready to leverage the benefits that come from a multi-generational workforce.

As well as being proven to be happier, harnessing the benefits of a diverse group of people with different perspectives, experience and ideas can also lead to greater productivity. For those employers looking to tap into true diversity of thought, there are few more diverse outlooks and approaches than those that cut right through generational divides.

The opportunity for cross-generational mentoring and learning is also hugely powerful. Tapping into the insight and skills of a worker in their 50s and 60s, and using it to upskill and educate younger colleagues brings collective benefit to individuals and businesses alike. It’s also important not to underestimate the benefit to older workers of learning from their younger colleagues in different areas and contexts.

History tells us time and time again that the segregation of any section of society is deeply damaging and comes with lasting consequences – and this is equally true of age segregation. The more intergenerational mixing and interactions we can foster in both society and the workplace, the stronger and more cohesive society will be for all.

Older job seekers are being overlooked

Despite driving nearly 80% of employment growth over the past 20 years – Rest Less analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics shows in February-April 2021 there were 4.8 million more people in employment compared with 20 years ago – there is a distorted irony that people in their 50s, 60s and beyond face disproportionate challenges in the job market.

Pre-pandemic, Rest Less’s analysis found that those aged in their 50s were more than twice as likely to be made redundant than their younger counterparts; and whilst still employed, were significantly less likely to receive workplace training. Even more worryingly, Rest Less found that, once unemployed, workers in their 50s and 60s were more likely to be unemployed for the long term than younger people. This can be attributed to a number of reasons, ranging from age discrimination in the recruitment process to a lack of government focus in supporting tailored retraining programmes for this demographic to help them transition out of declining industries once made redundant.

In addition to rising later-life unemployment, we are also seeing dramatic increases in the number of pre-retirement workers in their 50s and 60s moving into economic inactivity before they reach the state pension age – many of whom are discouraged workers who want to work but cannot find it.

This underemployment is damaging on so many levels: economically, due to the long-term impacts on their retirement income and reduced levels of consumer spending; and medically, as once retired, we are often less physically active, have smaller social networks and can struggle with a lack of purpose that has a detrimental impact on both our physical and mental health.

Large numbers of people taking an early retirement for which they are financially and mentally unprepared is not good for anyone: we need a thriving labour market that works for people of all ages if we want to enjoy the prosperous recovery and bounce-back that we all want and need.