Ageism in the workplace: Throw out your stereotypes and tap into the talent of the silver surfer generation.


Over the past five years, the total number of people in employment in the UK has grown by 6.9%, with employment for the over 50s rising faster than for younger workers.  So, with this in mind, I always ask myself, ‘why is it that employers seem less keen to see candidates in the 50+ demographic?’


According to a report by the Institute of Leadership and Management, 61 per cent of managers say that their over fifties workers have low, or very low, potential to progress.  An assumption is made that the over-fifties, having entered their ‘Autumn years,’ will be looking to sit comfortably back in their role, and lack the enthusiasm and drive which is so key to some of the more dynamic companies’ ethos.


However, this short sighted and incorrect assumption does not take in to account all the positive aspects the over 50’s bring to the workplace, as it is this age group who score higher than their younger colleagues on occupation specific knowledge and skills (85%) and understanding of customers (78%).  So, if you want an employee who is confidently able to engage with your customer, and share their industry know-how with co-workers, then it’s an over 50s candidate you want!


In my experience, the over 50s are equally as keen and motivated in their jobs as their younger counterparts. Many professionals are choosing not to retire until they are well into their 70s – either for financial reasons, or, simply because they love their job and feel they still have so much to offer.  After all, not everyone wants to go from career professional to spending their days gardening and babysitting grandchildren!  The over 50s have a plethora of skills, knowledge, and the added benefit of experience, to bring to a company and shouldn’t be written off due to preconceived opinions and stereotypes surrounding their age group.


If you are put off recruiting an older employee for fear that they won’t be as tech-savvy with the internet, high-tech software packages, or even the in-house intranet, think again. They may not have grown up with a smartphone grasped in their hand, but this is the generation who has seen the biggest improvements and changes in industry based technology throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.  The phrase ‘silver surfers’ exists for a reason, so believe me, they can handle the technology!  Having said that, when it comes to employees facebooking and snapchatting during work hours, it’s much less likely to be your over 50s – another bonus to your department’s productivity.


So, where does the law stand on using age as a discriminatory factor when hiring?


In a nutshell, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate directly by treating a job applicant or employee less favourably because of age without objective justification. This would preclude an employer from passing an employee by for promotion on a belief that because of their age they were not keen to step into a new role.


Government figures show that an estimated 13.5 million jobs will be created over the next 10 years, but only 7 million young people will enter the labour force. A management skills’ gap is looming, and employers would be foolish to disregard the talent of older workers.