Feature – Focus on Motivation: How to motivate older staff

When wanting to attract older workers, never underestimate the power of flexible working conditions, nor the value of a simple "thank you", says Jamin Robertson

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  • A number of large organisations are targeting older workers for their experience and skills, often by offering flexible working options.
  • Since 1995, the number of staff employed aged between 50-64 years has increased by 11%.
  • Older workers tend to have higher retention levels and, like younger employees, favour a diverse range of benefits.

A number of organisations are following the recruitment blueprint of national employers B&Q and HBOS by hiring older workers for their skills and experience.

Flexible working options can be a key perk. Portsmouth City Teaching Primary Care Trust is just one organisation that offers a raft of flexible working arrangements to retain its older staff. Those that delay retirement are allowed considerable scope in determining their hours and contract arrangements, and may opt for a reduced workload. The Trust also ensures pension entitlements are not affected.

Becci Newton, research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, agrees that flexible working is an attractive option. "Asda is known for its Benidorm leave, where [older] workers disappear between December and February to spend the winter in the sun. That’s one way [of appealing to them]," she says.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ research Opportunity age: Meeting the challenges of ageing in the 21st century, published this year, shows the 50-year trend towards early retirement has recently begun to reverse. Since 1995, there has been an 11% increase in employment rates among workers nearing retirement age.

Graham Povey, managing director of motivation firm Capital Incentives and Motivation, says those older workers are looking for that something extra. "Older people have accumulated most of the things they need in life. They want extra luxuries," he explains.

Often that little extra comes through recognition. National DIY chain B&Q is currently running the fourth year of its Heroes awards scheme, which rewards extraordinary achievement with a one-year paid sabbatical allowing employees to pursue their passion. Karen Turton, reward and recognition adviser at B&Q, says the reward scheme has generated a lot of interest among older workers.

"There’s a huge amount of over 50s (entered). They do ever so well, [because they] talk to customers, they’re warm and they have a high work ethic."

But Newton is wary of employers targeting any group based on performance perceptions. "It’s dangerous. Stereotypes about positive aspects of one group may [create a negative perception] of others. Looking at the diversity of older people, you cannot assume that [benefits such as] gym memberships will not [appeal]."

Alex Speed, national sales manager for Cottrills Creative Rewards, adds: "People in their 60s are [now] into all kinds of bizarre things. They might be away bungee jumping while an 18-year-old is looking for a new kettle. People are so different."

Flexible benefits are viewed as one way to cater to all ages and tastes. Carol Dempsey, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, adds: "The flex package offers [something to] people at every stage of the life cycle. [Many organisations] are trying to retain and reward [older workers] who don’t need to work, they just want a little bit extra, so they have to be very, very careful what they offer. The [main attractions are] pensions, healthcare, and flexibility."

John Davis, managing director of Argos Business Solutions, however, says older staff simply want to know they are valued for their contribution. "Thank you means more [to older workers] than for young guns shooting on to the next [level]. and that applies to all [grades]."