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07 Feb 2024
by Debi O'Donovan

REBA Inside Track: Awareness of the HR risks associated with longer working lives is growing

Cohesive people strategies to mitigate the risks of the ageing workforce are not yet common, but they are firmly on the radar of chief human resources officers (CHROs), as REBA’s research on the impact of longer working lives demonstrates

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The UK Census 2021 results show that the number of people in England and Wales aged 65 years and over increased from 9.2 million in 2011 to over 11 million in 2021, and the proportion of people aged 65 years and over rose from 16.4% to 18.6%. This ongoing demographic shift is starting to play through into workplaces.

Couple this with the rising drive to reskill and upskill workforces to meet the demands of an increasingly digital economy that is also striving to reach environmental targets, and it is clear that CHROs need to scrutinise the opportunities and pitfalls of longer working lives very carefully. 

REBA’s Longer working lives: the future of people strategies research, in partnership with Mercer Marsh Benefits, shows that already there are two- and even threefold increases in the proportion of organisations working on discerning obsolete skills, reviewing extended employment strategies, assessing multiple careers and setting aside budgets to invest in new skills among their existing workforces.

Shifting pressures

For these strategies to work, CHROs need to work with their benefits teams to also support the health and wellbeing of older workers; as well as consider how pressures outside work will shift for a generation often responsible for elderly parents and other relatives who are living longer.

Caring responsibilities, the cost of health and risk insurance, as well as a greater emphasis on pensions outcomes will become bigger business continuity issues when trying to retain experience during ongoing demographic change. That said, the research shows that assessing the future cost implications linked to an ageing workforce is still rare. Few respondents have forecast costs for tricky-to-predict areas, such as having more carers in the workforce through to the impact of delayed retirements. To mitigate risks and rethink what will engage this growing age cohort, employers must act now.

Building blocks for younger workers

Planning for longer working lives is not just about older workers but also the building blocks being put in place for younger and mid-career employees. This research shows which benefits are likely to grow as employers instigate new types of support to appeal to workers thinking about multiple careers likely to extend over five or more decades – many of whom will have smaller pensions pots than their older colleagues and will have got on the housing ladder later in life, if at all. They will need to reskill more often and will have experienced huge social change in ways of working.

Lifelong learning programmes, social wellbeing support and recognition programmes are all emerging as benefits to engage younger cohorts facing, and planning for, longer working lives.

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