By Marcus Leach

October 2011 marks the end of the six month transitional period leading up to full abolition of the default retirement age.

As this ‘honeymoon period’ ends there is now an urgent need for every employer to shift their attention from the detail of amending existing retirement policies to undertaking a strategic review of the relationship between age and working practices at every level of operations.

This is the view of Dr Dianne Bown-Wilson from age management specialists in my prime who believes that employers need to recognise that they now face financially punitive consequences if they fail to make the underlying requirements of the new legislation a priority.

“There are two compelling reasons why employers need to spend some serious time examining age in their workforce," she said.

"First, recent statistics released by the Tribunal Service show that the number of age discrimination claims accepted by employment tribunals in 2010/11 rose by nearly a third (30.8%) to 6,800 with successful cases resulting in an average payout of £30,289.

“These figures mean that age discrimination has now overtaken race discrimination to become the third most frequent type of discrimination claim. In today’s economic climate few employers can afford to stand the costs of such awards and need not take that risk, particularly when introducing age neutral policies is neither expensive nor particularly difficult.

“The second reason is that those older workers that are currently in the workforce are likely to be there for some considerable time to come. Economic conditions mean that many older people need to continue to work so ensuring their ongoing engagement and levels of performance must now become a priority.

“There is much that employers can do to ensure age equality in their workplace and this applies to all sizes and types of business in all sectors. For many it will mean a considerable culture change and the application of robust and objective performance management systems instead of the previous laissez faire culture. Others may just need to be more innovative and flexible in the way they do things.

“At the heart of age-friendly policies is the recognition that “older workers” like workers at any age, do not have a shared single set of needs and aspirations simply because of how old they are. In fact they are motivated by a range of different incentives and rewards which may be linked to factors such as their specific role, family and financial circumstances and general lifestyle. Such rewards need not necessarily be financial. For example, recognition, an interesting job, and an opportunity to contribute and develop others are often important for older people. Helping ensure that these attributes are available to them will help sustain older individuals’ ongoing engagement and commitment.

“Employers must now put some enthusiasm into tackling the issues surrounding older workers if they are not to find themselves facing claims. There is no doubt that although the majority of older workers are not litigious and would not want to bring a claim if it could be avoided they also have little to lose. If they are being unfairly treated or have been forced out of what may well be their last employed role, they may consider that they have much to gain from taking action to try and claim recompense for their treatment.

“Employers should also consider the potential effect of their treatment of older employees on their younger workers who will themselves be in that situation at a future date. What message does it give about how their employer values its employees if they see them being treated unfairly or simply tolerated as they grow older?”

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