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Jeremy Hunt's Call for Over-50s Workers to Unretire

Hunt can plead for older workers to go back to work, but businesses will need to hire them

The article originally appeared in City A.M. 31 January 2023 by Ann Francke

Britain’s workforce is flagging, with vacancies at a record high, but Jeremy Hunt’s push to get older workers back to the office will fall flat unless employers agree to change too

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt channelled his inner Lord Kitchener on Friday in his first new year speech. His “Britain needs you” plea to those who have left the workforce to return to work highlighted the critical strain of soaring workplace vacancies on the UK’s labour market and the economy.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, there are a record 1.2 million job vacancies in the UK, with the number of inactive workers rising by 630,000 since the start of the pandemic. This increase has been driven in no small part by an increasing number of Brits taking early retirement.

Yet government entreaties alone will not suffice to convince these early retirees to return to the labour market. Employers must change internal attitudes and recognise the benefits older workers can bring to their organisations.

A new report from my organisation – the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) – found that employers are significantly less open to hiring older workers than bringing in younger talent. In fact, our survey of more than 1,000 managers working in UK businesses and public services found that less than half of managers (42 per cent) would be open to hiring people aged between 50 and 64 to a large extent. For those over 65, the number drops even further, with only 3 in 10 expressing openness to hiring those close to state retirement age or older. A staggering 1 in 5 said their organisation was not open to hiring those over 65 at all.

The mismatch between a government proposing raising the pension age to 68, and a majority of managers not open to hiring older workers, highlights the need for attitudes across businesses to change, quickly. We call it the “say/do gap” between what business is saying and what’s happening on the ground.

Employers complaining of severe labour shortages while admitting they are hesitant to bring in older workers point to cultural and leadership failings in businesses of all sizes. Data from the ONS demonstrates the impact of these attitudes on potential older recruits, with one of the critical reasons cited by those who have become inactive since Covid-19 is feeling “discouraged” by potential employers.

Alongside a shift in attitude, companies need a more compelling offer for older workers. This means offering flexible working, predictable rotas, adequate health benefits, and ensuring older workers have equal access to training opportunities, including apprenticeships so they can learn while earning.

Above all, they must ensure older workers are included in their diversity and inclusion strategies. These changes aren’t “nice to haves,” they’re essential in a modern workplace and will benefit employees of all ages and boost retention.

Economic recovery and long-term resilience will depend on whether companies utilise all the talent and perspectives in our workforce.

Older workers can be lured back with flexible working options and adequate support and training. But unless those doing the hiring revisit their attitudes, older workers will continue to be excluded just when the labour market needs them the most.

Further articles:

Sky News on Hunt's 'Britain needs you' plea.

Reuters: UK government tempting retirees back to work

The Telegraph: The attempt to 'unretire the over-50s

The Express: Planning back to work budget

The Times: Over-50s need to get off the golf course (log in to The Times required)