The wellbeing of an ageing workforce


Dr Sheena Johnson is an Occupational Psychologist, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at Manchester Business School and a member of MBS’ Fairness at Work Research Centre (FairWRC)

Sheena looks into the challenges employers face in managing employee health in order to have a healthy and high performing workforce.

Workforce demographics are changing, along with wider pension and retirement changes, which has led to us having an older workforce. There is a clear need for managers and organisations to consider how this can be managed successfully.  An additional element at play is fairness at work with regard to older workers. Here, we look at how people can manage an aging workforce.

Changing population and work demographics: why is this important?

  • Increasing numbers of older workers staying in the workforce.
  • Likely increase in numbers of older worker job applicants.
  • Need to understand / tackle age stereotypes to manage an older workforce successfully.
    • To maximise performance
    • To protect health and wellbeing

Age and Fairness at Work

Ageism is when a person is discriminated against or treated unfairly because of their age, which can negatively impact on an individual’s confidence, career, finances, and general quality of life.

Despite the legal protection offered by age discrimination laws, there is evidence that ageist attitudes and the negative stereotyping of older workers is still happening and a number of age stereotypes exist, including:

  • Poorer cognitive functioning
  • Lower ability / performance
  • More resistance to change
  • More resistance to training
  • More sickness absence

Stereotypes can have the serious implications in the workplace, so there is a real need to tackle and change age stereotypes within organisations. Having a realistic, rather than stereotypical view of the abilities and competencies of older workers will enable organisations to better manage an ‘older’ workforce.

Stereotypes not facts

Stereotypes are not facts and there is a need to consider the evidence that supports, or disproves them. The evidence shows little, if any, justification for age stereotyping, as well as a legal requirement not to discriminate on the basis of age.

It’s vital that the qualities of older workers become more widely recognised. Older worker stereotypes that are not supported by evidence need to be dispelled. Demonstrating the benefits of older workers in terms of areas such as job performance, health, and customer satisfaction may help to discourage employers from ‘circumventing’ age discrimination regulations. Organisations should consider how they can support older workers to continue to receive the good performance older workers can offer an organisation. Providing appropriate support will also positively influence older employee health and wellbeing.

How organisations can successfully manage an older workforce

  • Raise awareness among the workforce about the need to work to an older age.
    • Provide information and support to employees with regard to pension and retirement issues.
  • Be aware of the value of older workers in the workplace.
    • Include information about the positive characteristics of older workers and an age diverse workforce in organisational literature.
  • Avoid discrimination against older workers.
    • Be aware of age discrimination legislation.
    • Consider whether decisions about older workers are based on stereotypes or facts.
    • Be able to give job-related explanations for decisions (e.g. when hiring or promoting) to reduce the risk of claims of age discrimination.
    • Train managers to avoid age stereotypes.
  • Place emphasis on skills development / employability
    • Provide age appropriate training
  • Encourage knowledge transfer between employees.
    • Consider mentoring schemes to facilitate knowledge transfer and interaction between employees.
  • Provide occupational health services that accommodate the needs of an ageing workforce.

About Author

Manchester Business School has a global reputation for innovative and influential teaching and research, which impacts business on a local, national and international level. We call this Original Thinking Applied.

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