18th June 2019

Age-related changes to the workforce over 25 years

The average age of the working population is increasing as people continue to live longer. Older workers often face negative stereotypes and are seen as less able than younger workers. However, research shows that this is not the case, and they bring a number of benefits to organisations. Therefore, we are starting to see a shift in attitudes and organisations are beginning to support and value their older employees more than before.

Changes in demographics

The past 25 years has seen a change in the age demographics of the workforce in the UK as births continue to increasingly outnumber deaths (148,000 in 2017). This is because the population is living longer; babies born in 2017 are expected to live 2 years longer than those born in 20071. Therefore, the number of people aged 65 and over continues to increase and the total working population (aged 16-64) is reducing. As a result, more older workers will need to remain in work or return to work after retirement to support the population financially.

To keep older individuals in work, employees are being offered incentives to delay retirement and defer their pension. The UK have also scrapped the default retirement age and the state pension age continues to increase.

However, older employees are often discriminated against at work and people hold negative stereotypes about them. They are often seen to be less productive, more resistant to change, and less well suited to complex jobs, compared to younger workers. Additionally, compared to gender, race and disability, age is still not properly recognised as a diversity issue. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have the same responsibilities and legal obligations in relation to age as with any other protected characteristics.

Changes in attitudes

Recently employers are starting to change their attitudes towards older workers and recognising the benefits they bring to organizations. For example, ASDA has been actively recruiting older workers for a number of years, they argue that older workers bring maturity, commitment and knowledge to their stores which their customers value. Older workers often hold key skills and expertise that younger employees do not possess.

What benefits do older workers bring?

A key benefit of an older employee is that they often have plenty of knowledge and experiences to share. Research shows that when there is a mix of older and younger people in teams, productivity goes up and the team are able to come up with more novel solutions to problems. The diversity helps to balance the strength and weaknesses of both groups. Older workers are able to provide a lifetime of experience and younger workers help challenge outdated strategies and bring fresh perspectives2. Additionally, older workers have been shown to experience less burnout as they use more appropriate stress management strategies, are more engaged in their work, take less short-term sickness leave and have lower turnover3.

However, older workers face novel challenges such as having to adapt to the use of technology. This requires similar skills and dedication as learning a new language4.

Differences in motivation

Research shows that younger and older employees have different motivations. Older workers are more concerned with job security than younger workers, they value jobs that offer job security and a good salary. On the other hand, younger workers are more motivated to seek opportunities for growth, they want to continue to learn, have opportunities to be trained to develop skills and they strive to be high achieving5.

What can be done to support older workers?

There are a number of changes that organisations can make to support the older workforce. For example:

  • Equipment design: Ensure equipment has large print/font size, high contrast and illumination
  • Shift pattern design: Give older workers more early morning and fewer late-night shifts
  • Work activities: Make sure older employees have varied work activities to avoid strain and account for any limitations they may have
  • Provide health and wellbeing programs, including exercise classes and social support groups.
  • Provide training and support: Ensure they have the same access to training as other employees

As the population continues to age, we must all be aware of any potentially negative stereotypes we have about older workers. We must support older workers and recognise that they provide an opportunity to exchange skills and knowledge which can be mutually beneficial. To find out more about how Impact can help your organisation adapt and grow with change and to help ensure all employees’ potential is recognised, get in touch with our expert Occupational Psychologist Consultants here.


1. Office of National Statistics. (2017).

2. Wegge, J., Jungmann, F., Liebermann, S., Shemla, M., Ries, B. C., Diestel, S., & Schmidt, K. H. (2012). What makes age diverse teams effective? Results from a six-year research program. Work, 41(Supplement 1), 5145-5151.

3. Johnson, S. C., Rabinovitch, P. S., & Kaeberlein, M. (2013). mTOR is a key modulator of ageing and age-related disease. Nature, 493(7432), 338.

4. Prensky, M. (2001).

5. Kooij, D. T., De Lange, A. H., Jansen, P. G., Kanfer, R., & Dikkers, J. S. (2011). Age and work‐related motives: Results of a meta‐analysis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 32(2), 197-225.