An ageing workforce - the key issues


As society ages, so too does the workforce. With age comes experience but it can also bring a number of challenges, and many people worry about their ability to work later in life.

The Working Longer Group (WLG) has told employers in the NHS that they will need to ensure they have good, proactive age management practices in place to meet the needs of all staff as their workforce ages.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines good age management as being 'those measures that combat age barriers and promote age diversity’. This includes being aware of rights and responsibilities, awareness of team composition and existing issues; the provision of flexible working; good recruitment and retention practices; supporting health, safety and wellbeing; and encouraging retirement planning.

This section includes key issues to consider about the ageing workforce.  

  • Research has shown that many older workers report feeling undervalued and not respected by managers and their co-workers.  
  • Managing a multi-generational team where more staff are older will require managers and organisations to adopt a more flexible approach to work organisation, task management and rotas/shifts.
  • Although not all workers will experience health issues, the Work Foundation has forecast that one in three workers will be experiencing chronic ill health by 2020. Organisations that provide early intervention services (eg access to occupational health services, physiotherapy or counselling) and who take a solution focused approach to the situation, discussing and planning with staff themselves measures needed to help retain employment, are proven to be the most effective.
  • Organisations need to be prepared for the fact that, just like the communities they serve, their workforce will experience ill health, impairment and disabilities. Retaining staff with these lived experiences can be beneficial to organisations as their understanding can enhance patient care.
  • Flexible working, including different or set work patterns, has been proven to enable older workers to work to a higher pension age. 
  • It’s never too early to think about your plans for retirement and the later stages of your working life. Employers who help their staff to make plans for their future career and retirement at an early stage, including consideration of flexible retirement options, have most success in retaining older workers and enabling them to work effectively.
  • Some people need to consider the fact that they may need to work differently or in a different capacity in the later stages of their career. It is not unreasonable, and in some instances it is a legal requirement, for employers to support this by offering altered working arrangements and/or development opportunities. 
  • Retirement is becoming more of a gradual process rather than a cliff edge event with workers altering their hours and reducing responsibilities in later life rather than leaving work completely. 
  • Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.
  • The stereotype of an older worker is usually untrue and insulting to older staff 
  • Older workers are entitled to have equal access to flexible working and training opportunities. These are key retention tools.
  • It is important that employees are aware of their pension age. You can find out your pension age by visiting our web page.

In a survey, trade union members in the NHS told us how they felt about having to work longer. The results showed that:

  • less than 42 per cent felt that their employer valued older workers
  • over 60 per cent of respondents did not feel confident that they had a good enough understanding of their pension arrangements to make informed decisions about their future, and over 85 per cent wanted face-to-face pension and financial advice to help them
  • less than 34 per cent felt that flexible work was offered fairly by their employer
  • over 80 per cent were worried that having to work longer would have a detrimental impact on their physical and/or emotional health
  • over 75 per cent were worried they would not be able to work at the required pace and that their performance would deteriorate as they aged.

Why Register?

Great reasons to register with NHS Employers

  • A personalised website
    Manage your profile and select topics of interest to you
  • Access your dashboard
    Bookmark useful content to help you quickly find what you're looking for
  • Get involved
    Contribute to our Talking Points discussions, comment on and rate our webpages
  • Keep up to date
    Receive the latest newsletters and media summaries

Log In