With many countries facing an ageing population, ageism and ableism in the workplace are worsening the ongoing talent crunch and holding many older employees back from contributing fully at work. A new report by the International Longevity Centre UK suggests three approaches that employers can take to tackle this social and economic issue.
Firstly, employers can educate their own workforce, both managers and staff, that age does not need to be an impairment to work, training, or career advancement. Under the social model of disability, age or medical conditions are only an impairment if policies, the environment, or even other people's attitudes make it so. Hence employers taking this approach need to actively promote policies that stimulate an inclusive work environment, including giving employees the safety to raise their concerns for action.
Secondly, employers can promote a realistic attitude that focuses on adapting the job to fit the person, rather than expecting the person to adapt to fit the job. It may involve something as simple as providing a physical work environment that caters to older people with ergonomic support or brighter lighting; or updating training processes to match changes in employees' energy and concentration levels.
Thirdly, employers can provide ongoing support for occupational health. This support should go beyond helping employees to get back to work following illness, and should also cover pre-emptive health intervention. Many organisations today already make attempts to encourage their employees to eat healthily, exercise, or simply have regular medical checkups; ongoing health support for older workers can build on these initiatives.
Dr Brian Beach, Senior Research Fellow at ILC and lead author of the report, commented that the emphasis should be on making sure work fits the person and that the person can stay in work. He said: “To remain competitive when dealing with an ageing workforce, organisations must act to create inclusive work environments. We have known about the barrier that ageism creates for older workers and older jobseekers, and this research points to how older people’s own ageist assumptions can limit their opportunities. This work also highlights the partial overlap between ageist and ableist attitudes—meaning efforts to tackle one must also address the other.”