Old Man Working

In the first year following the introduction of transitional arrangements to fade out the default retirement age, employment professionals are urging employers to ensure that they consider their management of older staff.

They should ensure that they continue to hold performance discussions in combination with fair dismissal procedures, regardless of age. It would seem that many employers are often too quick to assume that age is a factor in under-performance. When an older worker fails to reach certain standards employers can be quick to assume this is due to their age, and often neglect to hold performance discussions.

The transitional arrangements came in on 6 April last year. From that date onwards employers needed more than an age factor when deciding to dismiss an employee.  Employer's need an objective reason independent of age. Perhaps it will take some time to change the mentality that as employees grow closer to what was the retirement age they start to lose interest; and as a result their performance diminishes. By ensuring that the same kinds of discussions are held as with a younger colleague, employers can avoid acting discriminatory. They can also better hope to retain the knowledge and experience of older workers.

In further defence of older workers, Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, commented "There is no evidence that older workers block opportunities for younger workers. We have a flexible labour market and the economy is stimulated by having more people in work. Many employers retain experienced workers to maximise productivity and to help mentor and train up their new recruits." These views were in line with recently released research from ACAS. The research found that employees were currently doing very little to ensure that older workers are engaged and treated in a way that would minimise their turnover. What employees need to remember is not only the danger of assuming that age means workers are no longer able to perform to the required standard, but that with age comes valuable experience. With the right engagement these employees can be highly beneficial to the employer.

The difficult economic conditions means that this is likely to be a policy low on the employer's agenda. Understanding the value that could be derived from introducing effective policies means that employers may be more likely to place a greater importance on it. Acas Chief Executive, John Taylor, said “age issues should be embedded at the very heart of an organisation's culture, and should not be a box-ticking exercise to meet employment legislation."

The flexible working patterns that employers may have more traditionally considered for working mothers can be of great use for older workers. Flexibility can work well for both sides. Unfortunately, at present, a lot of older workers feel uncomfortable approaching their management about a decision to reduce or vary their working hours. Webb advised that "Many employers don't realise that flexible working is a popular option for older workers, as it allows them to make a gradual transition between full-time work and retirement," he said.” The employer is then able to retain the experience of the worker whilst the worker gets the flexibility they may now desire.

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