Older employees retained during recent recession

Thursday, 03 March 2011

Source: TAEN (Experts in Age and Employment)

Key older employees are being retained in the workforce. Over the past decade, an increasing number of people aged 65 and over have remained in work, despite the recession.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2001 around 412,000 people aged 65 and over were in work, and this rose to 870,000 in the last quarter of 2010.

This increase was seen in both full-time and part-time employment.  In the three months from October to December 2010:          

  • 2.7 per cent (270,000) worked full-time, up from 1.2 per cent (106,000) in January to March 2001
  • 6.1 per cent (600,000) worked part-time, up from 3.4 per cent (306,000) in January to March 2001

Since the onset of the recent recession, full-time employment rates have fallen for those aged 16 to 64. However, the situation has been different for those aged 65 and over, where it rose by 0.5 percentage points between January to March 2008 (the final quarter before the downturn) and October to December 2010.

According to the ONS: “Over the last decade these older workers are making up an increasing percentage of the total workforce in the UK, doubling from 1.5 per cent in 2001, to 3.0 per cent in 2010 ….. around two-thirds of those in work after reaching the age of 65 have been with their current employer for over 10 years.”

TAEN also highlights recent research from Manchester Business School (MBS) which shows that older workers are better at coping with
emotional stress and burnout than their younger colleagues.

The new MBS research, builds on previous studies, linking stress and burnout with reduced productivity and increased absenteeism, and found that this was particularly the case in customer service industries, where employees often face high levels of conflict and stress. In this environment, older workers appear to find their roles less emotionally draining and have less cynical attitudes towards customers than younger employees.

According to Dr Sheena Johnson at MBS: “For the first time, our research focuses on the valuable emotional skills that older workers can bring to the work place. It showed that older employees tend to have specific strengths, such as the ability to control their emotions, which help to overcome difficult situations when dealing with customers.”

The report also found, however, that there is still widespread discrimination against older workers, with many employers focussing on the issues of decreasing physical and cognitive abilities with age, rather than the positive skills that they can bring.