Legislation making age discrimination unlawful was introduced to the UK in 2006 and was later also incorporated into the Equality Act 2010. Age discrimination happens when somebody is unfairly disadvantaged for reasons, which cannot be objectively justified, relating to their age. It can:
- Adversely affect anybody and their employment opportunities, regardless of how old they are.
- Result in failure to consider skill-based abilities, potential and experience in the workplace.
- Result in significant legal costs, compensation, and settlements paid to avoid defending expensive discrimination claims.
Life expectancy is increasing by the equivalent of five hours per day according to TEAN experts in age and employment in the UK. When we consider this over the course of one year that’s almost three months a year; there’s no denying that we are living longer.
The pension age is also rising which means that we are also working longer and TEAN have suggested that by 2020 a third of the UK’s workforce will be over 50.
SMEs are at risk
However, small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are putting their growth and development at risk by failing to adapt to the quickly changing workforce. Almost half of SMEs admit to having no activities in place to ensure they have access to skilled and diverse people of all ages.
An ageing population is aggregating an increasingly age diverse labour market, but few small businesses are doing enough to appeal to workers of different ages in order to benefit from the diversity they offer.
This information materialises due to the latest study by the professional body for HR, CIPD, which explores the benefits of age diversity in an SME environment by gathering the views of almost 600 senior decision makers in SMEs across the UK.
Age diversity is essential
It also found that small businesses on the whole believe that a diverse workforce benefits a business with not only improved knowledge sharing, but that it also brings better problem solving skills and more enhanced customer service.
Older workers were also seen in an extremely positive light – nine out of ten SMEs said they have a valuable contribution to make. Only a small percentage saw no benefits at all.
Public policy advisor at CIPD, Dianah Worman, said: “Our research into age diversity in SMEs paints a largely positive picture. It’s good to see that small businesses, just like their large business peers, clearly see the benefits of an age diverse workforce.”
Despite the benefits of a diverse workforce the research shows that SMEs are not doing as much as they could to attract, recruit and support workers of diverse ages.
While SMEs believe that training older employees is a good return on their investment, there are other areas where they need to improve their offering to ensure that they can support more mature employees.
Too young to manage?
It’s not just the elderly who are under fire as the survey also found that almost half of SMEs believe that young managers struggle to manage them.
That being said, age discrimination effects mature workers most with 60% of those SMEs surveyed acknowledging that they have never recruited mature workers over the age of 65. This may also explain why only 5% of workers in UK SMEs fall into the 65+bracket.
Worman added: “Some are working hard to cater for different workers of different ages but, on the whole, we found that small businesses have a lot more to do if they are to tap into the full range of benefits of an age diverse workforce can bring.
“Employers are currently missing a trick by not offering flexible working to all employees and by not adapting to the changing needs of a changing workforce.