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Companies losing ‘corporate memory’ as older workers leave

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While young people have been hit hardest by the pandemic on the employment front, the long-term impact might turn out to be greatest on those aged 50 and over.

A report released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) last week found that those in the 50-plus age group had been more affected than those in the middle age groups and that many were worried about their future.

This group had the highest increase in redundancies in the three months ending in February this year and was also the most likely to be working fewer hours than normal during the period.

The long-term implications of the recent trend could have a profound impact, with the ONS report stating that, “older people who become unemployed are more likely to be at risk of long-term unemployment than younger people”.

Furlough end looms large

According to the ONS, more than a quarter of furloughed workers (1.3 million) are aged 50 and over and 30% of those people think there is at least a 50% chance they will lose their job when the scheme ends.

Indeed, outplacement specialist Renovo recently warned that while the current labour market appears relatively robust, the true impact of the pandemic will not be felt for another six to 12 months.

Rhys Moon, director at Renovo, said: “It’s impossible to tell how large our economic injury is, until we rip off the government’s furlough plaster.”

But while ripping off the plaster will undoubtedly impact older workers themselves, other experts have pointed out that it is companies too that lose out when experienced workers leave.

Sarah Loates, of Loates HR Consultancy, said: “We have seen a mass exodus of older workers, with companies haemorrhaging corporate memory, as employees leave with know-how gleaned over many years.

“Older workers are an untapped goldmine of talent, with a wealth of experience, life skills and wisdom.

“Employers should consider simple strategies ranging from targeted attraction campaigns and flexible roles to intergenerational learning, such as reverse mentoring, whereby more tech-savvy employees train older workers.”

Are employers missing a trick?

Indeed, Paula Gardner, Founder at Redundancy Recovery Hub, pointed out that tech skills can be learned, whereas the knowledge gained by many years of experience in a particular job often cannot.

She added that this was particularly relevant given the fact that many companies were planning on adopting hybrid working going forward. A Microsoft report in March predicted hybrid working was the next great disruption, revealing that 66% of business leaders were considering redesigning their office space for hybrid work.

“I would say that older employees are probably the ones best suited to a hybrid model of working. They no longer have small children and can get on with their work from home with the space and peace and quiet to perform well,” said Gardner.

“They have learned their craft so don’t need that ‘learning by osmosis’ that younger people often do. They can just get on with it. They also have years of business wisdom and people skills behind them. Companies just need to recognise this.”

Karen Watkins, Founder at Rowan Consulting, pointed out that while HR teams undoubtedly have a role to play in making sure older workers are not lost to businesses, the government should also be doing more.

“When you consider the huge amount of funding and focus that has gone into the younger generation in terms of the Kickstart and various apprenticeship schemes, there does appear to be a huge gap in initiatives that cater for this potentially forgotten generation,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Canva.com

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