How over 50s can help your business (and how to hire them)

The value of older employees is often overlooked in our youth-focused labour market, but they can help to fix your hiring crisis and bring real value to your business.

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Officially, age discrimination in hiring is illegal.

In practice though, it definitely happens and many businesses are reluctant to hire older employees.

However, with the UK’s population ageing rapidly and an ongoing ‘hiring crisis’ resulting in a shortage of high-calibre applicants for available roles, companies need to get ahead of the game and start hiring over 50s.

And really, businesses shouldn’t have to be forced into it – while business owners of all ages may be tempted to favour younger employees, hiring over 50s and incorporating them into your company culture can really benefit your business and result in a more diverse and more effective workforce.

Here, we’ll explain just how hiring over 50s can help your business and give you expert advice on how to target this group.

How over 50s can help your business

Over 50s can help your business in a wide variety of ways.

For example, they often bring with them a wide network of contacts (often at senior level) that they have built up during their working lives. This might give your business a better chance at securing new clients, supply deals or favourable press coverage.

And, while there’s often a perception that older workers are less productive than their younger counterparts, a major academic study into age and productivity actually found the opposite was true. The COGITO study revealed that, on average, older people performed more consistently and reliably than younger people, and also displayed higher levels of focus.

What really came up when speaking to recruitment experts and business people though, was that hiring over 50s can help your business by offering new perspectives and mentoring younger employees.

New perspectives

There’s an increasing acceptance that a more diverse workforce equals a better business.

And very positive steps are being taken to, for example, make sure more women and people from underrepresented ethnic groups occupy senior positions in UK businesses.

However, we’re still generally stuck in old and outdated ways of thinking when it comes to age, and age and employment in particular.

Indeed, research from the Centre for Ageing Better found that one third of 50-69 year olds think their age would disadvantage them when applying for jobs.

This reflects a world of work that all too often neglects the different viewpoints and wealth of life experience that older employees (and especially the over 50s) can bring to a business.

As a 52-year old woman working in tech, it’s a situation that Kristina Nilsson knows all too well. The VP of Communications at shared e-scooter and e-bike company Voi Technology, she argues that this mindset is holding back many fast-growing businesses:

“There are persistent stereotypes that those who are older are less capable, less able to adapt and less willing to roll up their sleeves and try something new.

“But in my experience, the opposite can be true.

“I know from firsthand experience that if you want to build a product that is going to be used by billions of people, you have to make sure that it works for every section of the population.

“If you’re 25, you’re going to think like a 25-year-old and that often means you’ll miss something that a 55-year-old sees immediately.

Companies must cherish this difference and hire people with diverse experiences that represent all genders, ethnic groups and ages.”

Nilsson does however also emphasise the importance of hiring older employees that have the right mindset to tackle new challenges and potentially unfamiliar ways of working (such as Voi’s non-hierarchical structure).

Ensuring that these ideas are properly explained is the key to having an age inclusive workforce and benefiting from the accumulated knowledge of older employees.

Mentoring

As well as offering new perspectives, older employees can also play a hugely important role in mentoring their less experienced colleagues, passing on their skills and wisdom as they work together.

This is a point that Gary Hemming, the Commercial Lending Director for ABC Finance really emphasises when he discusses a recent over 50s hire that he describes as “an excellent addition to our team”:

“The skills that we’ve gained have been huge both in terms of skill and work ethic, but also stepping in to mentor other members of the team and share experience when required.

“By mixing up the ages, backgrounds and experience levels of our team, we’ve found that team members benefit more from sharing their experiences and growing through collaboration.

The older members of our team have been crucial to this process and often prove to be some of the most valuable hires we make.”

Finally, there’s also a good chance that older employees will be more loyal than younger employees that may just see your company as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

So, businesses simply cannot afford to overlook the substantial talent pool of 50+ year olds that want to keep working on either a full-time or part-time basis.

But, how do you ensure that your hiring practices don’t exclude this group?

How to hire over 50s

We spoke to experts across the country about the best way to hire over 50s and three key strategies emerged: look at the language you use in job ads, make sure you’re advertising in the right places, and consider a completely “age-blind” application process.

Examine the language you use in job ads

This is a controversial area and can certainly be taken too far, but several of the experts we spoke to did suggest that certain terms in job ads can be negatively perceived by older candidates.

To try and find out one way or the other what sort of impact the language used in job ads has on potential applicants, the Centre for Ageing Research used mock job ads and online testing to assess responses among 18-34 and 45+ representative groups.

The results are shown in the graphic below:

Hiring over 50s - job ads research graphic

Source: The Centre for Ageing Research, Ads for All Ages (April 2021)

Double plus (++) or minus (–) signs indicate a statistically significant impact, while single signs indicate only a minor impact.

As you can see, the only term that would actually put off older candidates from applying for a role is recent graduate.

However, terms like technologically savvy and innovative did also have an impact, making older candidates feel they had a lower chance of getting an interview and that they might not be a good fit at the company.

This research also gives us insight into the things likely to increase the chances of older candidates applying, with generous pension contributions and flexible working opportunities the two key examples.

A short diversity statement explaining that the employer welcomed applications from a variety of backgrounds and social groups also had a positive effect. While it only made older candidates slightly more likely to apply, it had a much bigger influence on how well these candidates thought they would fit at the company.

Just as importantly, the research found that none of the terms that made roles more attractive to older candidates (such as knowledgeable) deterred younger candidates from applying.

So, if you do want to encourage applications from older jobseekers, then analysing the language you use in your job ads is a pretty good place to start.

For some high-tech assistance in this area, take a look at Textio, a recruitment writing insights platform that’s used by major companies like Tesco, eBay and Spotify to identify potentially problematic language and suggest more inclusive alternatives.

Advertise in the right places

No matter how good your job ad is, if it’s not seen by older candidates, then it’s more or less useless.

To help you avoid this fate, TopCV careers expert Amanda Augustine shares her top tips on advertising to attract older candidates:

  • Check your social media ads are being shown to a wide range of age groups – By default, social media recruitment ads automatically restrict certain age groups so make sure you disable this.
  • Target university alumni groups, social networking sites and forums for over 50s – all these are online destinations likely to be attractive to over 50s.
  • Use over 50s job boards like Rest Less to advertise your vacancies – Billed as ‘the UK’s fastest growing digital community for the over 50s’, Rest Less and other similar sites are the ideal place to post job ads that attract more mature candidates.

Consider “blind” hiring

If you’ve never heard of blind hiring, the basic idea is to remove identifying information from CVs in order to avoid unconscious bias.

For example, you could hide names (to avoid racial and gender bias) and addresses (to avoid your perceptions of an area influencing your decision).

When it comes to age bias, the easiest first step is to remove dates of birth from CVs and application forms, and this is a positive move.

However, for a comprehensive age-blind hiring process, you would also need to remove identifying info from employment and education history.

So, what you would end up with is a CV/application form that listed the previous jobs a candidate had and the places that they studied, but not how long they worked/studied there or when they worked/studied there.

This does of course make the process of selecting candidates for interview more difficult, and may mean that you interview more candidates than you did previously in order to clear up any gaps in employment history or a CV where a candidate has had many previous jobs (which could either indicate an older candidate or a succession of short-term positions).

The simplest way to do blind hiring is simply to get a black marker and cross out parts of CVs, but digital recruitment platforms like Pinpoint offer an elegant solution where you can anonymise and standardise CVs with just a few clicks.

While blind hiring is a good way to reduce the impact of unconscious bias and increases the chances of a more diverse candidate pool being invited to the interview stage, as this blind hiring guide from Glassdoor makes clear, it won’t increase the diversity of your workforce on its own.

This approach needs to be paired with other key steps to ensure a fairer hiring process.

For example, it’s crucial that people making hiring decisions receive specialised training to make them aware of their unconscious biases and recognise when they might be influenced by them.

And you also need to ensure you have a standardised interview process, perhaps including scorecards so potential hires are judged on their skills rather than other factors.

Blind hiring is a big step but incorporating it into your hiring process and company culture more generally can help to ensure a more diverse and effective business.

Final thoughts

Hiring over 50s should be seen as far far more than a last resort option in a hiring crisis.

As we’ve discussed, more mature hires should be a key part of a diverse and representative workforce, one that can offer new perspectives, share their valuable experience, and play a key role in mentoring younger employees.

To help attract over 50s, you need to consider the language you use in your job ads, make sure your social media job ads are being shown to a range of age groups, think about advertising on specialist job boards or targeting university alumni associations, and maybe even implement a blind hiring process to address unconscious biases.

Really though, it all starts with a change of mindset and a recognition throughout the company that older employees can often bring a unique set of skills and qualities that make the business better.

The more this is accepted (especially by key decision makers), the better chance you’ll have of attracting high-calibre over 50s that can help you achieve your business goals.

Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.

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