Proving your flexibility

I run a small chain of nursing homes. A good number of our staff are what many would consider older workers. While I have a basic-level employee benefits programme in place, I’m conscious that, with the age discrimination regulations coming into force next month, I haven’t catered specifically for that group of staff. Is there anything I can do to reward, motivate and enhance loyalty among them?

 Alysoun Stewart of Grant Thornton writes:

Well done for being aware of the new regulations, as many businesses are not yet conscious of its implications. Whatever size your organisation is, it is good practice to have an Equality Policy that is regularly updated and communicated to all employees (not least because as the employer, you could be held responsible for the acts of staff who discriminate on grounds of age).

As with the other anti-discrimination regulations, the basic rules are fairness, overcoming preconceptions about age and ensuring all employees are treated equally, regardless of age. This applies to positive and negative discrimination, so ignoring performance shortfalls of someone at almost retirement age may be viewed as discriminatory if those same shortfalls would be seen as disciplinary measures for younger employees.

The same applies to reward structures. They must be seen to be fair across your workforce. There is little point in introducing additional benefits unless this has been established, and if you introduce benefi ts for older employees, you should have equivalent rewards for everyone else.

There are, however, arrangements you can implement to significantly improve motivation, loyalty and attendance among your staff, old and young, and they do not necessarily involve money. Companies increasingly offer fl exible working patterns, allowing them to react to peaks and troughs in activity, ensuring their employees achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Evidence points to the benefi ts being immense, for both employer (improved customer service, reduced absenteeism and sickness, increased staff retention) and employee (better work-life balance, greater sense of control over working life, greater opportunity to continue a career).

Asda is an excellent example of the success of flexible working and, like you, has a signifi cant proportion of older workers. In consultation with its staff it has introduced flexible benefits, including grandparent leave of up to one week’s unpaid leave for time off with a new grandchild.

The introduction of any such scheme must be applied to all staff, and I would suggest that your fi rst step should be to consult everyone as to what arrangements would suit them. Crucial to any reward structure is that the rewards must be of value to the recipient so you need to listen before taking action. The rewards to you for getting it right are signifi cant.


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