Age Diversity can Help Business Recover from the Downturn, Says Commission

Employers who retain the skills and experience of older workers will be better placed to emerge from the recession according to Nicola Brewer, the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Addressing the Age Diversity in the Downturn conference in London, which was organized by the Commission along with TAEN - the Age and Employment Network, Ms Brewer also argued that the economic downturn should not be used as an excuse to justify redundancy on the grounds of age.

Ms Brewer argued that firms could benefit from continuing to employ older workers.  They should also consider flexible work practices as alternatives to making individuals redundant, including the greater use of part-time working and introducing flexible hours or phased retirement options.

Her message was backed by business experts, including Mark Keese of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Aaron McCormack of BT USA, and Lord Stevenson, President of the Employers Forum on Age, who discussed how flexible working practices from around the world have helped organisations improve performance and emerge from troubled times.

Ms Brewer said:

“We already have more people in the UK over state pension age than under 16, and, within 15 years, a third of the workforce will be over 50.  Embracing the skills of older workers should be a top priority – unless we are prepared to miss out on a third of the available talent pool.

“But older people still face incorrect and stereotyped assumptions about their attitudes and abilities.  They are forced into retirement, or selected for redundancy; if this happens, they spend longer out of work.  This is damaging for them as individuals, but it’s also dangerous for the economy. 

“The Commission does not accept that the recession means we have to slacken our search for fairness and flexibility.  We cannot afford for the talent, skills and experience of older workers to be lost. If this happens, British business will be less well-placed to capitalise on the recovery when it comes.”

Also speaking at the conference, Alan Christie, Policy Director at the Commission, said:

“We must stop stereotyping and worrying about how many candles a worker has on their next birthday cake, instead of looking at what they can offer.  It’s important to recognise that flexibility can help business weather the difficult times and prepare for the recovery, by attracting and retaining vital talent and skills, including older workers.

“The overwhelming experience of businesses that take an innovative approach to flexible working is that their workers repay them by being prepared to go the extra mile when they are asked to do so.  And that’s just what you need at times like these.

 “The Commission will carry on pushing for greater fairness and flexibility, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because we strongly believe in the business benefits of treating people fairly and drawing on the talents of all, including older workers.”

Chris Ball, Chief Executive of TAEN, said:

“Employers around the world are increasingly realising that age management policies which allow individuals of all age groups to realise their potential are the way forward. They have to become an integrated part of their organisational culture and operating principles.” 

Mark Keese, Senior Economist at the OECD told the conference:

“While job losses are inevitable during the current recession, both employers and governments must avoid resorting to targeting lay-offs solely on the basis of age.

“Early retirement schemes proved to be a costly mistake in response to previous recessions in terms of lost expertise for firms and a hefty welfare bill for governments. Moreover, it did not help youth to find or keep jobs. Those OECD countries which experienced the biggest declines in the jobs of older workers were also the ones that experienced the largest declines in jobs for youth.”

The Commission said it will continue to work with businesses to promote best practice in flexible working, and has asked the Government to use the Equality Bill to abolish mandatory retirement at 65.  

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