Sadly, ageism remains rife in British society
Gender Studies, o.p.s. and the British organization Wise Owls have worked together for some time now on the international project named P.E.O.P.L.E. The project in question is devoted to the problematic of age-based discrimination. I talked to Andrew Robertson, one of the “Wise Owls“, about why it is profitable for a company to employ and retain aged employees and how successful the UK is at fighting ageism.
You work for an organization named Wise Owls. What does the organization do and how (and when) did it come into existence?
Wise Owls came into existence over 12 years ago (1999) after it received some funding to offer people advice in looking for work in an East London borough called Hackney. The project was set up because it was recognised people over 50 were being unfairly discriminated against in the labour market. Government was not recognising it in the their policy and so Wise Owls began supporting the over 50s in looking for work and shouting out as loudly as possible that ageism was taking place. Since then it has carried out multiple areas of work in research training, and employment support. Today Wise Owls provides support for over 50s seeking work; it campaigns for an end to age discrimination in the work place, and offers training to people of all ages for work-based qualifications.
In addition to our core work of offering support for jobseekers, we try and change mentalities of employers through providing seminars to promote the benefits of older workers. We lobby government and have met with Members of Parliament to explain how the government can improve their policies to remove the barriers facing older people in the workplace.
What is the situation with the employment of 50+ people in the UK? Is there any gender-based difference related to this situation?
Over 50s continue to be discriminated against in the workplace. Research conducted by Wise Owls using the Freedom of Information Act in 2010 for a project named: ‘Ageism in the public sector’, targeted English National Councils and all London Borough Councils in the area of recruitment, redundancy, and reemployment. The research checked by age how many people were being recruited, made redundant and reemployed in or out of the councils. The results showed over 50s were most likely to be made redundant, least likely to be recruited, and least likely to find reemployment.
This situation remains the same now, despite efforts to improve the situation. The most affected are women over the age of fifty – the number of women unemployed in this age group rose by almost a quarter last year.
What are some of the tips you would give to a 50+ person looking for a job? What should such a person do to be more successful in getting employed/keeping a job?
Look at your C.V. Make sure it is up-to-date. If you are unemployed try and find some training, to show you are willing to still learn. BE aware of the market. If your old job is no longer relevant in today’s market, then look at skills you have and see how they can be transferred. The key is to show you have the desire to still work. If you are struggling to find work then consider volunteering, often a workplace will take on a volunteer because they can see they work well.
If you are in work, then you must keep training, and learning new technology that appears. Ask your employer for training in areas you feel you need. It is in their interest to keep their staff happy and interested, as well as this benefiting the employer. Training is truly important.
Finally confidence can be a factor in getting a job. See what organisation out there can help you run through your interview techniques. There are some things that we should and shouldn’t say in an interview and getting these details right can make the difference.
Is there a business case that can be presented to employers when it comes to hiring and/or retaining 50+ employees (and what is it)?
There is a lot of evidence coming out that highlights the benefits of employing and holding onto older workers. One example we like to use was a unique experiment conducted before the Age-discrimination Act came into place. In 1989, as an experiment, B&Q opened a store in Macclesfield staffed entirely by the over 50s. The experiment was a great success; two years later Macclesfield was showing profits 18% higher than the average B&Q store, with staff turnover 6 times lower. The success of this organisational experiment pushed the company to develop its over- 50s recruitment policy, and it now boasts that of a total staff of 37,000, 22% are over 50.
50-64 and 64+ years olds are absent less often than their younger counterparts, absence rate of 2.4% and 1.9% respectively, compare to the national average of 2.5%. 16-24 and 25-34 year olds take the most time off, with an absence rate of 2.6% for both categories.
Generally speaking, the work place should represent the community it exists in. The staff should be made up of the community. The wider the diversity, the wider the knowledge and skills base who represent the customers. They also are able to help source resources from and for alternative markets.
Different backgrounds, cultures, ages, gender and experiences impact positively in innovative new product development and adaption for different markets, especially niche ones.
Could you list any best practices from British companies (or other initiatives) related to the inclusion of 50+ employees?
British Telecom - The communications company’s “Achieving the Balance” programme helps employees move from full-time work to retirement. In 2009, 200 took a course delivered by BT’s partner, JPMorgan Investment, which covered lifestyle changes and information on BT’s pension and retirement plans, state benefits and tax planning. BT abolished its normal retirement age in 2005 and today employs more than 2,000 people over 60.
Guernsey post - When deliveries become too demanding, the postal service redeploys staff to indoor positions. It also offers pre-retirement training on areas such as tax, pensions and well-being, as well as working beyond retirement. It offers in-house physiotherapy to older delivery staff. It has no compulsory retirement age; those working beyond 65 are offered annual contracts.
University of Central Lancashire - Its “Fresh Steps” programme helps employees over 50 (almost 40% of the workforce) to reflect on their lives. Subjects include mentoring younger colleagues, the care-giver role, and dealing with grief. The programme’s activities are guided by feedback from older workers. Many positions are offered on a job-share basis and age-neutrality is central to its recruitment policy.
What is the attitude of the British society towards ageing?
Sadly, ageism remains rife in British society. A recent survey conducted by the government’s department for Work and Pensions concluded ageism is a serious problem in the UK and needs to be tackled due to the rapidly ageing population.
Researchers compared attitudes between two key groups – people in their 20s and people over 70 – using data from a 2010/11 Office for National Statistics survey of almost 2,200 people.
During questioning, respondents were asked how acceptable or unacceptable they would find a suitably qualified 30-year-old or 70-year-old boss. While most respondents were accepting of either, three times as many (15% and 5% respectively) said having a manager in their 70s would be "unacceptable" compared with having a manager 40 years younger.
The average person said old age started at 59 and youth ended at 41, but this varied by as much as 20 years in relation to the age and sex of the respondent, with women and older people saying youth ended later in life.
Overall, age-related discrimination and stereotypes are firmly embedded in British society and their scope is wide ranging. Tackling age discrimination requires strategies that address individual's assumptions and attitudes about age – about themselves and others – to ensure that they do not impinge on judgments about a person's ability, health or rights to services.