Employers must do more to support growing number of older workers

More than 90,000 Scots are now working past pensionable age, more than double the number in 2004. Picture: PA
More than 90,000 Scots are now working past pensionable age, more than double the number in 2004. Picture: PA
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Businesses in Scotland must do more to support older workers who choose to remain employment past retirement age, unions and charities have warned.

Demographic changes, pension reforms and changing attitudes to the benefits of work have all contributed to push the number of Scots aged over 65 still in employment to a record high. More than 90,000 are still working past the age they can receive the state pension - double the figure in 2004.

By 2020 one in three workers across the UK will be over 50. In the Scottish public sector the biggest and fastest-growing group of workers are in the 50-59 age band, figures from Unison revealed.

Rather than view this as a threat, employers should focus on the economic and social benefits of an older workforce, the managing director of Scotland’s leading national authority on older people and ageing said.

“It is vital that there is more support for older employees in Scotland’s workplaces, and great advantages for employers who seize this agenda,” Brian Sloan of Age Scotland said.

“With an ageing population and increases in the state pension age, more people will be working longer.

“Over 90,000 people over 65 are now in employment in Scotland, double the number in 2004. Population projections suggest that the number of people above state pension age in Scotland may increase by nearly 30 per cent by 2040, but the working age population by only one per cent.

“For these and many other reasons there is an economic and social imperative to provide more support to older workers, but also huge opportunities as well. Harnessing and valuing the skills and experiences of older workers is not only good for them but their employers too.

“That is why Age Scotland is working with a wide range of employers to ensure they can better support their older employees.”

Dave Watson, head of policy and public affairs at UNISON Scotland, said few employers currently had a strategy for dealing with an ageing workforce.

Writing in The Scotsman, he said: “As with society as a whole, the workplace can be ageist, too willing to write off older workers. Despite age discrimination laws, too many employers and managers have an unconscious bias against older workers. We see this in attitudes to training and development, and promotion opportunities.

“Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) Scotland director John McGurk speaks of the “demographic dividend” rather than “demographic time bomb”.

“One million unemployed 50-64 year olds want to work across the UK – they would bring much-needed skills to the workplace.”

Watson continued: “There is an outdated economic myth that the size of the labour market is fixed. If older workers don’t retire, this will somehow limit the opportunities for younger workers. Migration has shown how these workers not only plug gaps in the workforce, they stimulate economic growth.

“The same is true of older workers. It has been estimated that if unemployed older workers returned to the workplace, it would add £88bn to the UK’s economy.

“As the workforce gets older there is an increasing likelihood of burnout due to physical and emotional stress. Workplaces need to be redesigned to reflect age factors. For example, the number of people with dementia is forecast to increase to over 1 million by 2025 and 2 million by 2051. It is estimated that 18 per cent already continue to work after diagnosis, creating a new workplace safety issue few employers are even recognising.”