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The Midlife Crisis: Workplace Ageism and the Over 55s

We’re ageing more slowly, staying active for longer and preparing to work well beyond the traditional retirement age. Yet, despite this midlife zeal, there is growing evidence that over 55s have lost their appeal to employers.

A report commissioned by 55/Redefined has found that most midlifers are gloomy about their career prospects. More than two thirds feel the job market is closed to them even though a quarter are willing to work into their 80s.

Not only is this a problem in terms of discrimination, it is also a huge shame. One cannot help wondering why the same level of energy that is currently going into engaging millennials cannot be applied to workers at the other end of the age spectrum.

A creative approach

A few years ago, Yorkshire businesswoman Catherine Boddington shared some of her thoughts with Boardside on how employers can improve productivity and competitiveness by thinking more creatively about their workforce. One of the concepts she talked about was career loaning. At the lower end of the age and experience spectrum, this can allow those starting their careers to move from company to company picking up skills that they wouldn’t be able to learn in a single role. For those in the age bracket we are talking about here, the over 55s, it could be a way for experienced professionals to reinvent themselves as mentors, moving between departments in an organisation or from company to company “on loan” to share their knowledge and help to develop less experienced staff. It could be good for business, great for people development and motivational for older workers.

The forgotten bias

Returning to the discrimination issues, the study by 55/Redefined found that those in charge of HR policy and standards are often perpetuating ageism, albeit unwittingly. It could be because their focus is firmly on diversity and inclusion policies in which ageism rarely features.  Ageism has almost become the forgotten bias and it is important that those shaping a company’s policies are conscious of age discrimination. More than that, it should form part of any training that is delivered to address stereotypes of all kinds and promote respect in the workplace.

Cultural change

There are things employers can do to make the workplace more appealing to over 55s and therefore, by default, less discriminatory. These include introducing greater flexibility to make it easier for over 55s to continue to work for longer. Part-time working, flexible contracts and seasonal roles could help both the employer and the older employee.

Another shift could be to make soft skills more of a priority in the hiring process, which should go some way towards rebalancing the recruitment process, particularly if training is provided to hiring managers to help eliminate age bias.

Finally, just as many employers are taking the time to ask millennials what they expect from a workplace so that they can adapt their offer, why not ask over 55s what they want too? By engaging with current employees in this age group as well as new recruits, businesses can hold onto the talent they have nurtured and, more importantly, maintain the enthusiasm of older workers and inspire them to add value to the organisation in new ways. 

For expert advice and individualised guidance on employment law issues affecting you or your business contact Richard Port at or call 0330 0949338