Underappreciated and overlooked: Why UK businesses risk losing out on ‘elder power’

Over 50s now account for more than 30 per cent of the UK’s working population, but according to new research, older workers are the least content of all employees.

New research reveals that the “forgotten generation” of workers, aged over 55, feel marginalised in today’s inter-generational workplace.

The research comes from workplace consultants, Peldon Rose, which reveals a huge disparity between the oldest and youngest employees on average in wellbeing, attitudes and motivations.

Over 50s now account for more than 30 per cent of the UK’s working population, but according to the Peldon Rose survey, older workers are the least content of all employees. Only less than a quarter are happy with their employers, and eight in ten employees over 55 face intense workplace stress.

In contrast, the workplace’s newest recruits, the under 25s, are the happiest at work, with over half saying they feel appreciated by their employers, and being the least of all the age groups to face workplace stress.

“With millions of workers remaining in employment into their 60s and 70s, employers face the unexpected challenge of accommodating diverse generations of employees under one roof.  As businesses aim to balance the needs and desires of both older and younger workers within the modern workplace, our survey findings have demonstrated that it is often the older workers who are being over-looked and under-valued by employers, leading to poor wellbeing and motivation,” according to Jitesh Patel, Peldon Rose CEO.

An emphasis on youth culture

Peldon Rose warns that businesses are creating a ‘forgotten generation’ of older workers who, despite their experience and knowledge, do not feel their voice is being heard at work. Statistics show a worrying trend in placing a lot more importance and value on younger employees at the risk of alienating and dismissing input from older workers. Only 17 per cent of over 55s believe that their company values their opinion on the workplace, compared with over a third of the under 25s.

One-size doesn’t fit all

When it comes to benefits and rewards, the oldest and youngest employees have vastly different priorities and motivations. This presents a challenge for businesses determining a standard rewards scheme for employees across generations. While over three-quarters of the under 25s think social events and wellbeing packages such as gym memberships are important for supporting their wellbeing at work, the 55-plus age group consider these rewards as the least important workplace benefits.

And while nearly half of younger employees place a lot of stock in these benefits, only a quarter of over 55s share the sentiment.

Patel believes that businesses need to understand the needs of their workforce, instead of focusing on office gimmicks and wellbeing policies that they feel will appeal to the youngest employees at the expense of their more experienced workers. “Failure to do so could result in higher attrition of the older staff who have been the backbone of their business and have valuable knowledge and experience which could be imparted on to the younger generations,” he explained.

According to Patel, there are five key workplace improvements companies should consider to boost the wellbeing, happiness and productivity of staff at all stages of their working lives.

Natural light: the most effective way to boost mental wellbeing across the generations is to increase exposure to natural light in the workplace; 87 per cent of the over 55s and 83 per cent of the under 25s state exposure to natural light is important in supporting their mental health and wellbeing at work, yet only 56 per cent of over 55s and 63 per cent of under 25s have exposure to natural light sources within their working environment.

Inclusivity: Companies are failing to meaningfully engage with their employees.  Despite spending much of their day in the office, the majority of employees do not feel that their company values their opinion on the workplace environment – only 17 per cent of over 55s and 37 per cent under 25s think their opinion is valued – and both age groups state they are rarely involved in discussions about potential changes for the office environment. To boost trust amongst their workforce, employers should conduct a solid change management programme and ensure they take the time to understand what their employees want and need from an office environment, engaging with them about any proposed changes.

Quiet areas: Both generations highly value quiet spaces at work – 80 per cent of the over 55s and 80 per cent of the under 25s say they value quiet spaces at work yet only a minority actually have them (34 per cent of 55+ year olds and 39 per cent of the under 25s).  For a simple yet effective solution, employers should seek to increase the designated quiet areas and zones that staff can retreat to and include escape cocoon seating around the workplace.

Personal space:  9 in 10 (89 per cent) of 55+ year olds and 80 per cent of the under 25s value personal workspaces, yet only 69 per cent of 55+ year olds and 61 per cent of the under 25s have a place to call their own in the office.  To address this discrepancy, companies must look beyond the modern hot desking trend, consult their employees about what they really need to work productively and make the necessary changes to create a variety of workspaces so workers can select their own suitable space according to their personality and tasks.

Tools and technology: 83 per cent of the over 55s and the under 25s value tools and technology in the workplace however, surprisingly only just over half of the over 55s (54 per cent) and the under 25s (52 per cent) say they have them.  Employers should consult their employees about what tools and technology they need to be more effective at work. Failure to provide the right tools and technology will prevent them being mobile in the workplace and they will not utilise the variety of workspaces available.

See also: Older workers face ‘outdated stereotypes’ throughout hiring processes

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2016 to 2018.

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