Mid-lifers are the answer – so why don’t businesses invest in them?

According to the Office of National Statistics, ‘mid-lifers’ are the fastest growing population but, in practice, investment for most businesses is heavily skewed to those in early career.

Older workers are vital for the future of the economy. BITC predict a 7.5 million skills gap in workers between 2012 and 2022. Their report into Age in the Workplace, makes a strong case for the need to retain, retrain and recruit older workers. They argue that support for older workers results in increased loyalty and retention, improving productivity and reducing recruitment costs. They report that more and more people have a desire (or a need) to work into their 60’s and 70’s but employment isn’t currently working for many people over 50 and real change is needed to address age bias and discrimination.

Myths and fascinating facts

There are also many myths about older workers that need to be challenged – here are a few with some fascinating facts:

  • Myth: Some believe that older workers are more likely to be off sick
  • Fact: Older workers are half as likely to take a sick day compared to their younger counterparts. Only a quarter of over 50’s took time off in 2014 due to ill-health compared to just under half of those aged 20-30
  • Myth: Older workers aren’t up to date with technology
  • Fact: Cisco research found no great correlation between age and confidence using technology – even less so for technology at work
  • Fact: In the digital sector, 70% of start-ups founded by older workers lasted longer than three years, compared to only 28% of those created by younger entrepreneurs
  • Myth: Older workers cruise along and are not really interested in their career
  • Fact: 91% of older workers surveyed still wish to progress in their careers
  • Myth: There is no business benefit in training older workers
  • Fact: Organisations that provide a higher level of training to older workers retain their staff until a much later age, thereby reducing turnover costs

I am curious why, in the face of such compelling evidence from the Government and Public Policy bodies, so few businesses are taking the time to understand and invest in this vital population. In my work, I talk to many business leaders and HR professionals and they are all very interested and supportive but very few act or feel able to. Is it that practitioners don’t know what to do / don’t have business support / are concerned with other things / are afraid of doing the wrong thing? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these.

Action areas

In 2012, the CIPD proposed the following action areas for businesses based on the latest evidence and research:

  • The motivation of older workers
  • Performance management
  • Flexible working
  • Recruitment
  • Skills and training
  • Health and well-being

Additionally, there is compelling evidence that Mid-life career reviews make a real difference to engagement and retention. Many businesses in Europe provide support for mid-lifers to take stock of their careers and plan ahead. In the UK a few leading businesses now offer a Mid-life MOT where people aged 45+ are offered support to review and plan ahead in relation to their wealth, work and well-being.


The business case is clear and compelling – investing in older workers improves retention, engagement and productivity. The first step in a business is to develop a real understanding of older workers (beyond the myths) and develop a programme of action that adds value to both the business and the people.


‘Age in the Workplace’ at http://age.bitc.org.uk (2016)

Myth buster factsheet (BITC, 2017)

CIPD – Managing a healthy ageing workforce (March 2012)

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