The UK population is ageing and so is its workforce. By 2020, one-third of workers will be over 50, especially as it is now unlawful to force employees to retire unless there are objectively justifiable reasons for doing so, following the removal of the default retirement age.
Employers might think older employees are more likely to have a disability, and so present greater challenges, but this is not the case.
In England and Wales, the largest proportion of disabled people (25%) are in the 50 to 64 age group. Among 65 to 74-year-olds, only 20% say they have a disability. This is probably because they do not think of themselves as disabled, but it is still true that most people will acquire a disability between the ages of 35 and 49, when the figure jumps from 5% to 15%, and between 50 and 64.
Older employees want the same from an employer as younger staff do: flexi-time, remote working, annualised hours and job sharing. They also like control and choice in how they do their work.
It is true that visual acuity declines with age, but the deterioration starts in the mid-40s. So every employee will appreciate clear fonts and good contrast in written material and a well-lit environment.
Cognitive capacity peaks even earlier, in the mid- to late 20s, but with age comes increased verbal fluency, general knowledge and vocabulary, not to mention specialist skills and business knowledge.
There is no reason to believe that older employees cannot be trained in new skills, and excluding them because of their age may be unlawful. Employers should just ensure that venues and materials are accessible for everyone.
Overall, employers that build flexibility into job descriptions, have ergonomically well-designed workspaces and an open and inclusive culture can only benefit from having older workers.
Bela Gor is legal director for the Business Disability Forum