Employers must plan for people living and working longer

Employers must plan for people living and working longer

A recent survey suggests that the mindset amongst the Irish workforce is changing when it comes to career longevity and anticipated retirement ages.

According to William Fry’s 2019 'Age in the Workplace Employment Report', 61% of those surveyed believe that they will have to work beyond the age of 66, and 68% believe there is no upper age limit for customer-facing jobs. Conversely, only 32% of those surveyed would actually like to work beyond the age of 66, while 61% of respondents believe that older workers are inhibited by technological change.

These figures, when considered in conjunction with the age discrimination claims statistics in the 2018 Workplace Relations Commission annual report, suggest mixed attitudes towards the subject of age in the workplace.

Due to a variety of factors, including increased living costs, greater life expectancy and a growing desire to work beyond the State pension age of 66, this large cohort of 61% is underlined by official figures.

CSO figures show 81,600 workers over the age of 65 registered in the Irish workforce during the first quarter of 2019, an increase of 3,000 from 2018. The CSO predicts that figure will continue to rise, with approximately 125,000 over the age of 65 being active in the workforce by 2031.

"With the majority of employees believing that they will have to work longer than ever before, now is the time for employers to act and prepare for a more age-diverse workplace," said Catherine O’Flynn, head of William Fry’s employment and benefits department.

"Irish employers have introduced age-diverse policies and initiatives, such as raising the age of retirement, physically adapting the workplace, and aligning retirement age with the State pension age. However, all employers in Ireland need to plan for employees wishing to work beyond 66 years old," Ms O'Flynn said.

"When this growing trend is added to the significant increase in age-related disputes before the Workplace Relations Commission, many employers may be unnecessarily exposing themselves to legal risk," she said.

As might be expected, age discrimination complaints are becoming more prominent before the Workplace Relations Commission, and, according to its annual report for 2018, it saw equality complaints making up 49% - more than doubling from 24% in the previous year.

"As the age-diversity amongst Ireland’s workforce continues to grow, it is in employers’ best interests to ensure they are prepared for the ongoing changes. There are a variety of different recruitment positions to retirement," said Ms O'Flynn.

To help avoid these issues, employers can initiate a number of procedures, including ensuring that recruitment material is age-neutral and non-discriminatory, and aims for diversity amongst recruitment and decisionmakers.

Employers must plan for people living and working longer

Employers can also introduce return-to-work programmes for older workers looking to re-enter the workforce; implement "soft landing" programmes that allow workers to reduce hours gradually up to retirement; and remove upper age limits on apprenticeships, intern and graduate programmes.

The CSO has projected Ireland’s population, which stood at 4.74 million in 2016, to increase to between 5.33 million and 5.81 million by 2036. It predicted that the population of Dublin could increase by 31% by 2036, rising from 1.34 million in 2016 to 1.76 million. This would mean, in effect, that 31.6% of the country’s total population would be living in the nation’s capital by 2036.

But the south-west, mid-west, west and border regions are projected to account for a lower percentage share of the total population under all scenarios by the same time frame. The CSO has also forecast that the number of people aged 65 years and over is projected to see increases in excess of 65% across all regions by 2036.

A recent report by the Gerontological Society of America suggested that older Americans - growing in numbers and diversity - will be key to the nation’s future economic health, but with the public and private sectors adapting to these demographic realities.

The report examined how citizens over 65 are contributing to the productivity of society far past age 65, and how the consumer habits of older Americans create ripple effects in the economy.

"The public and private sectors have a helpful role to play in the age of longevity," said Kevin Crain, enterprise financial solutions executive at Bank of America. "In our experience and through our research, we find that the majority of employees would like to continue working past the typical age of retirement - but on their terms, in new fields and with greater flexibility. Policies that attract and retain this experienced talent will be helpful to the economy."

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