Now is the greatest time to be 50+.  I think!

20 February 2023 By Victoria Tomlinson

Now is the greatest time to be 50+.  I think! image

A year ago, I gave a TEDx talk, A generation of Wasted Talent. It has had 21k views. In it, I argued that we are wasting the talent of people aged over 50.  In this blog I want to share why this generation is written off at work, the impact – and what employers need to do to get them back or keep them.

These days people in their 50s and 60 are generally fit, have a great deal of experience to offer and are at the very peak of their lives. Yet in the workplace, they are written off.

But in this last year the world has woken up to this waste.  And employers are finally – sort of – trying to retain and attract.

What has changed since my TEDx talk

Let’s start with what has happened – I can’t actually believe it is just a year since my TED talk and how much has changed

So, while some of the current conversations are frankly horrendous and too many based on shocking assumptions, I am overall heartened. The best bit of it all – the government and employers are desperate for more people, whatever their age and skills. Even if they don’t really think much of this age group, they realise they don’t have much choice and are starting to look at recruiting them!  They will then discover just what talent they have been missing.

The skills shortage is not an employee problem – it is down to employers

I have also been heartened by a few journalists. The best was Camilla Cavendish of the FT who admitted she had got some of this wrong, saying ‘I’ve had to change my mind after provoking a huge response from FT readers, many explaining why they’ve retired and will never return’.  So far from being layabouts, her readers (which included me, we had a call and I explained the perspective I was seeing on this) were saying they wanted to work but

  • Needed more flexibility to combine with caring – both grandchildren and parents
  • Were fed up with ageism and being overlooked
  • Wanted work that used their experience … and more

I posted my views about the issue and this article on LinkedIn – so far it’s had 11k views and still rising and so many passionate comments.

So that is the issue. What my post on LinkedIn was saying is, this isn’t an employee problem – it is down to employers themselves.  And they have the answer to all this in their hands.  Of all the issues facing the world at the moment, this is honestly one of the easier to solve.

What do employers need to do to retain the 50+ talent? 

Include age as part of your Diversity and Inclusion strategy. Measure employee engagement, training and more, by age

Flexible working is the key to retaining this generation. I cannot tell you how many older employees have ‘retired’ but tell me they would have happily stayed working if they could have worked just three or four days a week

Look at your benefits.  One chief people officer said theirs were skewed to younger employees (childcare, fertility etc) but only ‘menopause and impotency support’ for older people (and what kind of a message does that send out?)

Your benefits should include pre-retirement planning – not financial (though of course that is needed) but the whole, ‘what can you do?’.  This is why we started Next-Up. We met hundreds – and now thousands – of people, wanting to use their skills and no idea how to do that. And that is what our platform does. It has stories of dozens of unretired people, inspiring with ideas and how they worked out what to do at this stage of life (call us if you want a demo)

Are you training employees? Initially when I heard this, I struggled to believe it.  But I have seen too much evidence now – employers spend millions on training new recruits and younger employees; almost nothing on the 50+ it seems. In fact, even from 40. Invest and be surprised – this generation can be as good as any at tech

Address ageism.  Another fact that I didn’t initially believe and again, now persuaded. You have to bust the myths, lead from the top.  UK Hospitality has this great guide on recruiting and retaining older employees

It includes these fantastic 50+ myth busters – share them widely

  • Older employees are HALF as likely to take sick days compared to younger; only a quarter of 50+ took time off in 2014 due to ill health compared to under half of 20-30s
    • Training for older workers means retaining staff till much later ages, reducing t/o costs
    • 91% of older workers want to progress in careers
    • 70% of start-ups founded by older workers last longer than 3 years, compare to 28% started by younger
    • Older employees retain information longer and have higher training rates than younger, combined with higher motivation and good attention spans

And if you want to recruit older employees, you will definitely have to change HR and other mindsets about the value of this generation. On a basic, practical level

  • Make sure imagery reflects wider age groups
  • Using words in job ads such as ‘tech-savvy’, ‘innovative’ and ‘adaptable’ are off-putting to older generations
  • In contrast, words such as ‘knowledgeable’ are appealing

Read more in a guide by The Centre for Ageing Better.

There we have it. If ever there was an opportunity for our generation, then this is it.

Hopefully this time next year we will see real change and employers understanding the value and using the experience of the 50+ generation.  It is such an opportunity, let’s hope it is not wasted.

Author Image

Written by Victoria Tomlinson

Victoria Tomlinson is chief executive and founder of Next-Up. Next-Up supports employers with a range of services for directors, partners and employees to help them understand the impact of retirement on mental health and create a plan to use their skills and experience in new ways to ensure wellbeing. A key part of our role is to inspire people with ideas and contacts, beyond traditional expectations. A former director of EY, she is an international speaker on unretirement, personal branding and using LinkedIn strategically as well as on leadership and women on boards. She mentors chief executives and directors, start-up businesses and ex-offenders. Victoria is Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University and chaired an advisory board for University of Leeds.

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