The ageing workforce - what is the existing practice in NHS organisations?

NHS Working longer review

The working longer team at NHS Employers explains a recent research project they undertook on behalf of the NHS Working Longer Group (WLG).

Project  - Deep dives

As part of the WLG national research project, we carried out a series of visits throughout September until November 2015 with NHS organisations in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The project aim was to gather intelligence about how the service is being affected by an ageing workforce and find out anything it’s doing, or looking to do, to support staff through a series of pension changes and a raised retirement age.

During the project, a total of eleven visits were carried and a warm welcome was received at each.  The research was undertaken through qualitative interviews, known as deep dives. 

At the visits, we looked at:
  • what data is currently being collected and how it is used
  • what older workers access for learning and development 
  • how their skills are kept up to date
  • what policies, practices and initiatives organisations have in place to support the ageing workforce to work longer
  • how organisations currently use equality and diversity monitoring to support an ageing workforce
  • how they promote the use of the NHS Pension Scheme flexibilities
  • how they work in partnership with trade unions to support their staff to work longer.
The organisations that took part had all expressed an interest in the issue of an ageing workforce and were keen to learn more and share solutions for supporting staff. 

A number of themes emerged during the visits including the desire to open up conversations about career and retirement plans between line managers and staff.  We also found there were variations in the use of flexibilities such as retire and return or step down. It was felt these flexibilities should be used more to support staff to work longer. 

The visit showed there is a demand for national data to help organisations benchmark. Data is often collected but more could be done to support initiatives to support the ageing workforce, and there is a perceived difference in the duties carried out by different age groups.  

A huge amount of intelligence was gathered and compared. Eleven substantive reports were supported by a series of outcomes which document the similarities and any differences between the approaches. Many similarities were found and explored further through discussions and feedback to the WLG in November 2015.

The intelligence demonstrates that many organisations recognise the impact an ageing workforce is likely to have on their organisation, and the potential issues that may arise and  solutions required to support staff. Many will now use their organisation’s report to carry out further conversations and any actions they need to take forward.

The feedback was well received by the WLG who will now use the information gathered to support further work and inform future communications.

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