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Age-related recruitment bias goes unchecked amongst majority of companies

The vast majority (87%) of respondents to Mercer’s Age-Friendly Employer research do not check whether their people managers hire workers older than themselves. Of the 13% that do measure it, over half found that managers do not hire people older than themselves.

The findings from the consultancy company are also reflected in research from the recruitment industry, where 92% of respondents confirmed that they have never run an analysis to determine whether a client is discriminating on the basis of age.

“A lack of monitoring around age-related recruitment biases not only means that companies are potentially breaking age discrimination laws, it also means they might be missing out on a wealth of experience and talent that could benefit the business,” said Yvonne Sonsino, Europe Innovation Leader, at Mercer. “There are limited examples of age equality checks in other key areas too, such as on pay levels by age, performance grade distribution and training spend.”

Sonsino added, “Such checks need to become a minimum benchmark for all employers, to ensure fairness and equity. There is a direct impact on engagement and productivity at stake here, and those employers that do them already emphasise how effective they can be.” 

Minister for Pensions, Baroness Ros Altmann, said, “This survey shows that there is still more work to be done to encourage recruiters to make the most of the talents of older workers.

“It is in the interests of individuals, employers and the economy to ensure older job applicants are not overlooked, as they have a wealth of experience and valuable skills that can benefit businesses. Ensuring mature applicants are considered on their merits rather than written off is vital, especially in our ageing population.

“People are not & lsquo;old’ in their fifties and sixties and it is important that employers remain open-minded to recruiting and training older staff and reaping the benefits of doing so for their businesses.” 

The data in Mercer’s report came from three primary sources*, including a survey of 69 UK employers with over 3.4m employees combined, that looked at what companies are doing to engage and retain older workers.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) also surveyed over 1,300 of its members on how they view workplace practices. Finally, the recruitment expert De Poel gathered views, via focus groups and interviews, on how their industry engages with and views older people looking for work.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) reviewed the overall research results and added additional data and observations from their existing research and knowledge of labour trends.

The research highlighted an urgent need for companies to review their age related HR policies and practices. The majority reference age in their diversity and inclusion policies, however most do so in relation to retirement only. Eighty-four percent reported that they need to change processes, behaviours or both in relation to age, in order to retain older workers in future.

“By 2050, the number of people over 65 years old will triple worldwide and the number of those over 80 will quadruple,” said Sonsino. “Some countries will be more affected than others, but this demographic change is inescapable. Combined with reduced birth rates, the result is severe skills shortages, which is already impacting employers. Companies will need to understand this change and prepare to survive.” 

Sonsino concluded, “For HR programmes to meet the needs of multi-generational workforces, recruitment, talent management and job design, retirement savings adequacy, employee education and training, as well as health and wellbeing programmes will need to be reviewed from a new perspective.” 

Mercer’s research found flexible working to be the most prevalent age friendly working practice among participants, offered by 81%, whereas & lsquo;preparing for retirement’ programmes are offered by just over half (52%). The increasingly popular practice of offering advice and support for those caring for ageing relatives is so far only offered by 45% of companies. Over a third (36%) analyse health and absence by age to investigate the potential cost impact of age related health conditions, however, only 30% offer age-specific wellness programmes.

TUC employee research

Many employees, especially those in in the age group 45-54 years (particularly women), are concerned about being able to continue to work as they get older, but also show a markedly less positive response than other age groups when asked about being prepared for retirement. Specifically, less than half (40%) feel well prepared financially, for retirement. Younger employees show a much higher level of comfort with preparation for retirement, however it is likely that this is indicative of a lack of engagement in the process. 

“Companies that engage on savings and retirement planning with employees of all ages find a real competitive advantage to be gained,” said Sonsino. “It is worrying that only 25% of companies give significant support for planning for retirement to their staff. This will and has to change. Driven by the new Pension Freedom and Flexibility reforms, employees will need more help on understanding their choices. Employers will increasingly offer services to help employees make these decisions, at the same time they will need to review their own workforce planning agenda, succession planning and their approach to the employment life cycle.”


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