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By Luke Lambert (Senior Communications Officer), Published

Actions which make organisations more welcoming of older applicants – including effective unconscious bias training – would help address the negative impact of the pandemic on older job applicants, believe Bayes Business School academics.

This week, Phoenix Group, one of the UK’s biggest insurance groups, announced it would be amending its job adverts to make them more accessible to older applicants.

The insurer – which owns financial services firm Standard Life and employs more than 7,000 people in the UK – will replace the words ‘energetic’ and ‘enthusiastic’ in its job adverts with phrases such as ‘contributing new ideas’ and ‘problem solving’ as it bids to become a more inclusive employer.

Phoenix Group chief executive Andy Briggs is the government's ‘business champion’ for older workers, and the company’s current staff body is comprised of more than 44 per cent of people who are aged 45 or over.

While employment figures show an increase in opportunity for those aged between 50 and 64 in the last 30 years, that increase has been less than younger age groups since March 2020.

Meaningful training needed to support Andy Briggs’ approach

Professor Chris Rowley, Professor Emeritus of Human Resource Management at Bayes Business School, says employer practices are unlikely to change until more senior management figures publicly state their commitment to change and commit to training leaders how to address issues of unconscious bias.

“This issue is now in the public eye because of the approach of CEOs like Andy Briggs, but warm words are not enough. Change requires a public commitment from senior management as well as support and specific actions.

“In addition to removing words from job ads, another step is dealing with unconscious biases which exist in management. This can involve providing meaningful training around such bias as this drives the practical changes, such as wording in ads, and help to remove spurious age-related demographics from CVs, and interview questions. We may need to go back to basics and look at less used and unusual sources of talent and pools of possible candidates to encourage those may not be a certain age or deemed a ‘typical’ candidate for a post.”

How to dispel the belief that youth means heightened productivity

It was reported this week that UK job vacancies were at a record high of 1.24 million between October and December 2021, as the labour market has tightened for particular jobs and roles.

John Forth, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management at Bayes Business School, said that while steps have been taken in recent years to tackle the issue of stereotyping against older employers – such as the ‘Retain, Retrain, Recruit’ policy in 2015 – many employers still believe younger employers are necessarily more productive.

“Some employers might not have paid as much attention to this issue in the past yet, while this may partly reflect a prevailing view among some that younger workers are necessarily more productive, this is quite simply not the case. Recent research at Bayes shows that the age composition of the workforce doesn’t play an important role in determining the success of a business. This suggests that more employers should be trying to appeal to a wider demographic as they look to fill vacancies in a tight labour market.”

“One part of this process involves avoiding language in job advertisements that might inadvertently dissuade older candidates from applying. In this case, focusing on clear statements of what the candidate needs to do and achieve is likely to encourage a more diverse applicant pool.”

A more rounded approach to retaining and recruiting

Professor Rowley says the impact and fall out from the pandemic has turbo-charged the labour market and believes a more rounded approach to retaining and recruiting staff is the most effective tactic for employers, as they adapt to post pandemic working.

“Retaining staff requires much more than just the narrow-minded and lazy ‘throw money at them’ approach. It should involve a much better, holistic, and meaningful ‘recognition package’, with better terms and conditions to reward commitment, motivation, and loyalty. A recruitment approach requires looking at formerly over-looked sources of workers. These now include the so-called ‘elderly’, a term that is moot, contentious and can itself be off-putting to both recruiters and potential applicants.”

All quotes can be attributed to Professor Chris Rowley and Mr John Forth, of Bayes Business School.