Tips on how to manage older workers

With the abolition of the default retirement age which, coupled with people living longer and a weak economy, signals an increasingly ageing workforce. Here are some useful tips for managing older workers in the face of these challenges.

It is estimated that within 5-7 years, one third of the British workforce will be aged over 50 yet, according to a report from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), just 14% of businesses are deemed ready to cope with this. Are you ready?

Retirement is not an option

If you previously relied on the default retirement age (DRA) to retire people at 65, this option is no longer available to you. The phasing out of the default retirement age began back in March 2011.


The abolition of the DRA, along with the introduction of the Equality Act in 2010 has sparked fears of an increase in discrimination cases being brought to tribunal. Recent statistics released by the Tribunal Service show that the number of age discrimination claims accepted by employment tribunals in 2010/11 rose by 30% to become the third most common type of discrimination claim. Successful claims resulted in an average payout of £30,289.

You should ensure that your discrimination policies are up to date with the provisions of the Equality Act and that you do not discriminate against workers based on their age.

Getting the most out of older workers

Many older workers are keen to continue working and can bring years of skills and experience, plus loyalty and a strong work ethic to a small business. As well as it being illegal to dismiss someone based on their age, you could also lose talented staff. Research shows that age is not a good indication of a person's capacity to work. Plus, older people are typically absent less often than younger people – absences is higher in under-25s than it is in over 55s, according to the Office of National Statistics – and the rate of all workplace injury is higher in young men (16 -24) compared with older men.

Health and safety issues

The prospect of increasing older people in the workplace does, of course, raise some health and safety issues. The Health and Safety Executive suggests that any changes due to age should be taken into account by employers to ensure that older workers can continue to work safely and healthily. Health and safety should not be used as an excuse for dismissing an older worker. By law, employers should protect workers by carrying out routine risk assessments for all staff and any training if needed. HSE suggest the following approach.

  • Assess the activities involved in jobs and modify workplace design.
  • If necessary make adjustments on the basis of individual and business needs, not age.
  • Consider modifying tasks to help people stay in work longer.
  • Make sure you provide appropriate retraining allow staff to change work hours and job content.
  • Base decisions on capability and objective risk – not age
  • Consider legislative duties, such as the Disability Discrimination Act.

Performance management

As with any employee, if an older worker is performing poorly and their performance cannot be managed and improved, it is still possible to dismiss them under normal dismissal procedures on the grounds of capability. However, all members of staff should be treated equally. No one should be singled out based on their age. We strongly advise that any employer who is about to begin a dismissal procedure seeks HR or legal advice before proceeding.

Members of the Forum with legal expenses insurance or a subscription to Practical Employer can call our member helpline on 01565 626 001.


Tips on how to manage older workers