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6. Myth Busting to Combat Ageism at Work | Age Pioneers Action Panel Report

This report highlights the salient points from the Myth Busting to Combat Ageism at Work session with our guest speakers, and the subsequent Q&A.

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

Age Pioneers is an Action Panel of cross-sector HRDs and Heads of D&I. It includes the likes of Unilever, EY, Capita, Dentsu and Boots. We have a core group that attends each month and picks apart a single topic in relation to age inclusion. We use the first 30 mins to interview our panel on the topic to share their experience and have a Q&A (which is recorded and turned into a published article), then the next hour the group becomes the panel and debates the topic under Chatham House rules in an unrecorded event to allow peer networking and collaboration.

Myth Busting to Combat Ageism at Work

Watch the Recording of the Speaker's Q&A Session Here

Myth Busting - Six of the Best

Myth 1 Retirees are living the dream

You’ve been working for decades and the time has come to put your career behind you. It’s a moment to see friends and family, enjoy your hobbies and take a minute to just smell the flowers. Sounds idyllic? Maybe to begin with...

“That’s what started me off on the journey,” says Lyndsey Simpson, founder of 55/Redefined. “Retirees over the age of 50 kept telling me there is a rainbow period of 12 to 18 months of positivity and happiness – when they do up the house, see their kids and grandkids, have lots of holidays, play some sports and then… suddenly they feel invisible. They think, ‘Is this it? Is this my life?’”

Today’s over 50s have another 30 years of healthy life ahead of them. And the thought of three decades, without any form of work, is a crisis – particularly for men. It can create mental health issues, such as serious depression.

There is also the impression that retirees have money in the bank, full pension pots and a comfortable standard of living. That’s just not true, says Lyndsey. “We may think they are protected against the headwinds of the economy, but 48% of the 4000 people we contacted are worried about the cost of living and 19% are struggling to afford essentials. Their pensions are being decimated, they’re realising that they haven’t saved enough, they are living longer and they need new pathways back into work.” And for women, it can be even tougher – on average, women in the UK hold 39 per cent less in their pension pots than men.

These over-50s who are overflowing with experience and full of potential want to unretire and re-enter the workplace. But they don’t feel the workplace wants them back – 70% believe it’s difficult to re-enter the workforce or change career over the age of 50. And one last thought: significant numbers of retirees didn’t want to retire in the first place – 30% of respondents felt they were forced to retire, and that figure was 10% higher if they were a woman.

The retirement dream for many is just that. A dream.

Myth 2 Companies can’t afford the wage demands of older workers

So, we now know the over-50s want to remain in work. The trouble is, they price themselves out of a job – they expect too much money, don’t they?

Again, this is not true. As 55/Redefined’s report revealed, nine out of ten over-55s say they would be prepared to take a drop in salary to retrain in a new role or industry. And of those already retired, one quarter say they would consider reskilling or retraining to re-enter the workplace. That’s a lot of people who are ready and willing to work but finding that ageism is against them.

So, what are the over-50s looking for, if not high salaries? About half want a job that is flexible enough to fit around their out-of-work responsibilities and interests, and a third are looking for something that provides them with a sense of purpose.

It’s a concept that Amazon are embracing, explained Lesley Gregory. “Amazon aims to choose people based on their skills, not on their age. The company is very keen on not stereotyping people – so, if you are 60 and want to go surfing, then go surfing. Amazon believes you can learn to be anything you want to be, and Amazon will support you to do that.”

Having worked with many organisations to address ageism, 55/Redefined’s Lyndsey suggested a subtle shift in approach when it comes to flexibility: “Don’t dictate what that flexibility is. It isn’t saying, ‘We are going to advertise a part-time role that is 10am till 4pm, Monday to Wednesday. Instead, advertise a role that accepts applications from part-time or flexible workers – and let them tell you when they can work.”

Lyndsey also explained that an organisation having a positive attitude towards older workers can be a real attraction. “A fifth of over-50s are researching prospective employers and selecting those with a clear and transparent diversity policy around age.” Making part-time and flexible opportunities part of an HR strategy could help re-engage and recruit older workers.

Emma Harvey, from AXA, suggested companies will increasingly have to ask themselves: “What do we stand for culturally? What is our activity around increasing diversity, including age, and how do we ensure that we are really a truly inclusive place to work?”

Attendees to the webinar agreed and one noted optimistically, “Once you start recruiting a few older workers, word gets around and it encourages others.”

Myth 3 Older workers are sick and absent more often

It seems to be common sense – older workers are, well, older and so get sick more often, surely? This opinion was reinforced when one of the webinar attendees asked what should companies do to encourage older workers to be healthier?

Lyndsey revealed this is another myth. “We have collated huge amounts of data around absenteeism and sickness absence for the over-50s and, unsurprisingly (to me!), we’re finding that the over-50s are less absent. They take fewer sick days off for colds, flu, gastro bugs, and other illnesses. We know that, statistically, an over-50s worker is 200% less likely to take a day off work sick than a worker under the age of 30.”

It seems older workers are more reliable – and don’t pull sickies. If you want a workforce that’s going to be there when you need them, go grey.

Myth 4 LinkedIn is the go-to place for candidates

LinkedIn has made a huge difference to the working processes of talent acquisition. Amazon’s Lesley recalled: “When I started in recruitment, everything was manual. We had a Rolodex on the desk and a phone that we had to dial out number on. That was the only way.”

Things have moved on now – HR and talent acquisition teams have grown used to using LinkedIn to source candidates with the right experience and skills. Simples, right?

There is a huge “But”, as uncovered by 55/Redefined’s research: Only 16% of over-50s are active on LinkedIn. Just 16%. And when it’s broken down into regions, the picture becomes bleaker – in Wales, only 10% of over-50s are active on LinkedIn. Essentially, the older candidates simply aren’t there to be found. Perhaps this also explains why 82% of the over-50s haven’t been contacted by a recruiter in the last 12 months.

“In our Life/Redefined community, we are running workshops to help people build a LinkedIn profile,” noted Lyndsey. Other organisations are doing similar work. It is worth adding, that for this demographic, the most popular social media platform is Facebook (72%), followed by Instagram (31%) and Twitter (24%).

Myth 5 Recruitment is already serving the over-55s

Katrina O’Neill, founder of Join Talent, is proud of the UK’s talent acquisition executives. But, as one of the country’s most respected recruiters, she also noted: “The average age of recruiters tends to be a little on the young side.” It means recruiters don’t have the lived experience of older workers.

55/Redefined’s Lyndsey agreed: “The greatest bias is sadly within our own sector. It’s the HR and the recruitment function. We don’t believe it’s conscious, but we do know that 25- to 30-year-old recruiters are 39% less likely to present an over-50s candidate than their colleagues who are slightly older than them. They are also almost 20% less likely to offer retraining or support to over fifties.”

Katrina added: “People gravitate towards speaking with someone who they feel can understand them, has shared experiences and can relate to them. This is true of all areas of diversity and inclusion – and age is one of the most important aspects of that. One of the challenges for recruiters is that they are people who seem to be at the cutting edge.” Intuitively, that seems to mean those in their 20 and 30s.

Katrina encouraged HR departments and recruitment companies to shift their thinking: “If you can expand the age profile of your own team to include the over-50s, you’re instantly going to be bringing in older candidates with a different perspective, a different maturity and a different life experience. The conversations with hiring managers will be different.”

Katrina continued: “Unfortunately, it is still socially acceptable in the workplace for a hiring manager to say, ‘I want a bright young thing’ or ‘I don’t want somebody that’s going to be too stuck in their ways. I want somebody that’s young enough that I can mould.’ That’s still seen as an acceptable attitude. We need to empower recruiters and other managers to challenge that behaviour and give examples of why it’s not truthful. It is really important.”

Myth 6 Older workers can’t adapt to the modern world

Young people are often tagged “digitally native”, with the suggestion that they naturally understand the modern workplace. The other side of this coin is the conclusion that if you are not digitally native – that is, not young – you can’t understand the modern workplace. It’s a lazy observation that collapses under the slightest inspection.

As revealed in 55/Redefined’s report, a 50-year-old business founder is 1.8 times more likely to achieve upper-tail growth than a 30-year-old founder. Why? Because they have built up the wisdom, experience, skills and networks to deal with the highs and lows of setting up a business.

Lesley spoke of her career path to becoming EMEA Senior Talent Acquisition Manager at Amazon Worldwide Operations. “My background has been in talent acquisition, and I’ve always been allied to HR. But I have a love for tech and, about seven or eight years ago, it became apparent to me that tech had to support talent acquisition teams more effectively. So, I moved into app building in the talent acquisition space, matching and deploying nurses for the NHS. I became a product manager – and discovered the same processes and approaches apply as they do in recruitment, the language is just different.”

She added, “I’m 55 and people of my age might think they’re not able to cross-train into a new career. That’s not right. The behaviours and skills that you have picked up will fit very well with a change in career.” As noted earlier, one of the main issues is that older workers just aren’t given the opportunity to retrain.

One of the attendees explained how, as someone in their mid-50s, being part of a multigenerational team was a highlight of his working life. “I absolutely love working with a younger team. I feel incredibly privileged to have gained the kind of experience and knowledge that I have. I want to use that experience to help others develop their own careers – whether that’s through mentoring, coaching or something else. Older members of the workforce can help accelerate and develop the careers of younger colleagues.”

Lyndsey agreed and added it’s a potential resource that is often ignored. “If you are a start-up or scaling up, don’t be put off approaching people that have earned six figure salaries. Often, they are very happy to take whopping pay cuts, just to be involved, feel useful and give a company the benefit of their experience and their corporate knowledge.”

This session was recorded in January 2023.

In the HR community, we all think that LinkedIn is a little bit of the answer. But it doesn’t work for the over-50s. The responsibility lies with us to find new ways of reaching this audience and connecting with them. Lyndsey Simpson, Founder & CEO, 55/Redefined

Our Guest Speakers

Katrina Hutchinson O’Neill, Co-Founder and CEO of Join Talent

Katrina is a hugely experienced and well-respected figure within HR. After working for various banks heading up the HR function, she founded Join Talent in 2019. In the short time since she launched the business, it has grown to more than 200 people in 23 countries. Katrina is passionate about improving the recruitment process for the over 50s. Katrina was awarded Scale Up Entrepreneur of the Year in 2022 and has been named one of 2023’s Top 100 Most Influential People (UK).

Lesley Gregory, EMEA Senior Talent Acquisition Manager at Amazon Worldwide Operations

Lesley is an experienced, strategic talent acquisition leader with over 20 years in the recruitment industry. She is particularly interested in data and technology having recently led the development of market leading digital tools in the onboarding, vetting and screening space. She is now working in Operations with Amazon Worldwide, using technology, improved processes and data to create positive outcomes. 

Emma Harvey, HR Chief Operating Officer at AXA UK

Emma has led several departments including Head of Customer Experience with AXA Wealth, Head of Capability for AXA UK and now HR Chief Operating Officer for AXA UK. She recently asked 55Redefined to complete an Age Diagnostic at AXA UK .to analyse their data around Age and transform how AXA UK approaches older workers within their workforce. Emma has been a member of Age Pioneers since its launch.

The Action Panel privately discussed these points following the speakers Q&A which is not recorded. To be part of this confidential conversation, get in touch HERE.

Missed a session? Access previous recordings and articles HERE.

Age Pioneers is brought to you in partnership with Join Talent, EMEA's leading partner for embedded recruitment solutions & TA strategic consultancy,