Cambridge University Press

Cambridge University Press

January 26, 2010 10:00 ET

HR Policies Are Failing UK Managers Sympathetic to Older Workers

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM--(Marketwire - Jan. 26, 2010) - UK managers are supportive of people who want to work past the retirement age of 65, new research shows. However, HR departments are lagging behind with the appropriate policies.

Research published in the journal Ageing & Society appears to show that the 'light touch' approach by the UK Government towards regulating employment after 65 has not worked.

In fact, researcher Dr Matthew Flynn from the Business School at Middlesex University goes further and suggests that the recent change in regulations has consolidated rather than eradicated an entrenched 'culture of retirement'.

Success in negotiating to remain at work came down to whether or not the post-65-year-old had a supportive line manager and rarely to official policies put in place by the organisation they worked for.

In 2006 the Government drafted the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations which set a 'default retirement age' of 65, but also imposed on employers a 'duty to consider' requests from employees who wanted to continue in work beyond 65.

The 'duty to consider' approach is unique to the UK and has led to only a slight growth in the numbers of people working beyond 65. In 2003 17% of men aged 65-69 were in work; by 2009 this had risen by just 5% to 21%. A similarly small rise was experienced for women over the same timescale.

Researchers interviewed 70 managers across 9 sectors of business and industry and based in workplaces large (over 200) and small (under 50). The study was part of a research project commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

It reveals that where an employee reaching retirement age has a sympathetic line manager, their chances of staying on in their job are much higher. This means that opportunities to stay at work are more the result of individual arrangements and do not represent wholesale change in the policies and practices of UK organisations.

Dr Flynn noted: "Managers see retaining their older workers as a way to conserve skills and knowledge during economically uncertain times. Managers' attitudes aren't holding them back. The problem lies in company policies."

Assistance from HR departments was unusual and, where it occurred, not generally considered positive, Dr Flynn continued. Human resource specialists have been slow in providing line managers with guidance. Many managers are unaware that they can offer workers part-time roles or a change in job responsibilities as an alternative to retirement.

Previous research quoted in the article also suggests that work status at retirement age plays a role in whether or not an employee is successful in staying in the workforce past 65, with lower-paid workers the most vulnerable.

Such workers were found to be more vulnerable than professionals and entrepreneurs, as many had been made redundant late in life. Dr Flynn said: "The conclusion can be drawn that post-65 workers in low-skilled jobs would benefit most from the job security that would follow from abolishing mandatory retirement."

Dr Flynn quotes one commentator as describing compulsory retirement as the leading form of age discrimination and the driving force behind ageism in modern society. An employee can still be dismissed solely on the basis of age in the UK, Ireland, Denmark and France.

Other countries have relaxed their laws with Sweden and Norway putting in place a retirement age of 67 and the USA and most of Canada abolishing compulsory retirement altogether.

The UK government will be reviewing the default retirement age in 2010 with a view towards abolishing mandatory retirement altogether.

Dr. Flynn commented: "Abolishing mandatory retirement age could result in the cultural change in managing older worker which the UK government wanted when it implemented the age discrimination regulations."

Notes to Editors

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About Ageing & Society

Ageing & Society is an interdisciplinary and international journal published by Cambridge University Press devoted to the understanding of human ageing and the circumstances of older people in their social and cultural contexts. It draws contributions and has readers from many academic social science disciplines, and from clinical medicine and the humanities. In addition to original articles, Ageing & Society publishes book reviews, occasional review articles and special issues.

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