Ros Altmann: Older workers benefit businesses and the economy

The UK is facing a fundamental shift. Our society and our workforce are ageing and employers need to respond. Helping people stay in the workplace for longer is likely to be increasingly important for businesses.

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Over the next 10 years, forecasts suggest there will be 700,000 fewer people aged 16 to 49, but 3.7 million more people between 50 and state pension age. To avoid labour shortages, extending working lives and embracing flexible retirement options will be an important part of the future workplace.

Redefining traditional retirement represents a tremendous opportunity to boost economic growth, as well as benefiting long-term corporate performance. Government changes are helping businesses embrace this opportunity.

Ending the default retirement age and extending the right to request flexible working to all employees can help retirement become a process of cutting down working hours, rather than no work at all. A phase of life when older people are still working, but less than before, still contributing to the economy and their own future finances, is better for most people than suddenly stopping completely. 

Keeping older workers in work will also, ultimately, mean more jobs for younger people, because it will increase the spending power of the economy.   

As a part of my role as the government’s business champion for older workers , I am meeting successful employers and seeing first-hand the business benefits of retaining and recruiting older staff.

For example, coach operator National Express, where one-third of the workforce is over 50, is happy to employ older workers on a part-time basis and finds that combining older and younger staff helps the less experienced learn and develop. It believes older workers often better understand the needs of older customers and that this is benefiting its bottom line.

Negative stereotypes about older workers are starting to evaporate, with organisations across the country seeing the benefits of an age-diverse workforce. As people are healthier for much longer and want a better standard of living in later life, flexible retirement offers a win-win for all. Better for business, better for individuals and better for the economy in future.

Dr Ros Altmann is the government’s business champion for older worker