Andrew West: How can employers support older staff in the workplace?

The government’s Fuller working lives strategy identifies the need for employers to support older workers, not just to stay in work, but to continue developing, learning and changing jobs, even changing careers.

The issues it raises are myriad, but the trap is in assuming that as employers we can somehow consider our older workers a defined group who all want and need the same things. The underlying premise that older workers want and need to keep developing through to the end of their careers renders distinction between them and the rest of the workforce almost meaningless. The trick has to be for employers to create genuinely flexible packages and ways of working that support everyone to thrive at every stage of their life and career.

One in eight adults are unpaid carers for family or friends, according to Carers UK, and it estimates that within our lifetime nine million of us will have caring responsibilities. Older workers are clearly likely to be caring for children, elderly parents or both, and are increasingly taking on caring responsibilities for their grandchildren.

It is easy to assume that supporting carers is simply about time off, but a day’s leave, under even the most creative flexible-working policy, is not always the solution to a work-life balance problem. Work is challenging and rewarding, so carers need the ability to keep doing their jobs for the fulfilment that offers, as well as needing to manage their other responsibilities.

Employers must, therefore, embrace flexible-working arrangements that enable people to balance those demands. So many millions of people need to work flexibly that the ability to do so is no longer a nice perk of the job, but a necessity. Employers which do not recognise that will inevitably lose out on the knowledge and skills those millions have to offer.

Andrew West is human resources manager, reward and systems at the Royal College of Nursing