As a nation, we’re living longer than ever before. In fact, the Office for National Statistics estimates that the average girl born in 2014 is reasonably expected to live anywhere between 79.8 and 86.7 years – a massive boost to UK life expectancy. Thanks to better knowledge sharing, an improved understanding of health and, of course, recent advances in medicine, an ageing population – similar to that seen in Japan – is something that is widely expected in the near future. However, while this is overall a very positive thing, it is important for businesses to consider how an ageing population could affect the workforce. Many companies are beginning to take measures to prepare for changes resulting from better life expectancy.

How can businesses streamline internal processes to ensure success in an environment made up of a greater percentage of older people? While there are many changes that could take place, long term and short term, there are two in particular that businesses can start to consider now that will improve employee engagement. The first is an ageing workforce, while the second is a workforce with additional responsibilities, such as caring for the elderly.

Talent Strategy for the Ageing Workforce

As life expectancy increases, the age of retirement is expected to rise – but so is the number of people who wish to continue working well into retirement. Assuming reasonable health, there are actually many reasons not only to retain existing employees, but also to consider hiring older people who may be able to fill notable skills gaps with prior professional experience. Unfortunately, however, there are also concerns. An important question to be asking is whether current company policies, work culture, and traditional seniority rules could not only fail to support older employees, but actually work against them.

Fortunately, there are ways that businesses to preserve their employee value proposition (EVP) while adjusting to provide a more enjoyable and productive environment for older workers. In Asia, for example, there is an increasing trend for shunning a traditional seniority system, in favour of a performance-based system to minimise the risk of age discrimination. Furthermore, older employees are often moved into mentorship positions or training roles; positions that are urgently needed within many industries and yet are often overlooked. A report by the ISACA cites a lack of mentors as one of the biggest obstacles deterring women from the technology sector. Furthermore, businesses could look into better lighting, ergonomic back supports to improve workplace health, and automation of basic processes to assist older employees.

It is also vital to consider how existing processes could create obstacles for older workers. Whereas 99.2% of 16-24-year-olds regularly use the internet, this figure drops to just 38.7% for the over 75s, according to the Office for National Statistics. Businesses that utilise modern technologies may wish to ensure they have an adequate training system in place to encourage the learning of new, essential skills.

Shifting Responsibilities

As well as an ageing workforce, it’s also important to consider the impact of a workforce with additional responsibilities, such as caring for elderly parents at home. Care Minister David Mowat suggests that a person’s responsibility to ageing parents should be taken as seriously as their responsibility to their children. Similar regulations to those that are already in place to protect working parents should also be implemented to protect working children, Mowat says. Fortunately, the UK is already some of the way there; children of elderly relatives currently have the right to request flexible working hours from their employer, and must be granted emergency time off for family and dependents if eligible.

Facebook is leading the way for talent management strategy, recently implementing a six-week paid leave allowance per employee per year, to care for elderly family members. Here in the UK, businesses are being urged to consider flexible working requests fully, which could help to minimise staff turnover rates significantly. Businesses employing foreign-born workers may also wish to look into remote working policies where possible. With the number of foreign workers in the UK increasing, it is possible that some may need to work remotely, should a family member back home become unwell or increasingly dependent. In some instances, businesses may find it more beneficial to create job-share roles.

However, an important question to be asking is how flexible businesses need to be, in order to support a workforce with additional responsibilities. For many businesses, while requests for compressed working hours or flexitime may be able to be accommodated, other forms of flexible working, such as V-time working and sabbaticals, could leave a business struggling. It is important for businesses to weigh the pros and cons of such requests and work with employees to determine a mutually agreeable solution.

The Next Step

An ageing population is highly likely to impact the workforce, but this impact doesn’t have to be detrimental to business. With a nimble talent acquisition strategy and small changes to internal processes, you could the balance in retaining skilled workers and identify new pools. Suitable work/life balance; this could not only improve employee satisfaction, but also boost productivity.

Post contributed by Andrew Manning, Senior Vice President of Cielo. Connect with him on LinkedIn.