Age is a state of mind

25 January 2011

It was interesting to read in the press last week the mixed feelings about the abolition of the default retirement age (DRA). From Wednesday 6th April, the DRA will be phased out and will be completely abolished by Saturday 1st October.

As far as I'm concerned, it's about time. At Access, we've always been of the opinion that age is a state of mind. This applied when we were a company of 20 and remains the same now that we have over 300 staff.

This change in legislation is, therefore, something that we embrace wholeheartedly, right from Board level down. When you have long serving, committed staff that have a wealth of knowledge and experience, why would you want to pull the plug on that talent pool? This expertise is priceless.

Retirement is a very individual matter, and a very personal milestone. For some the prospect is heaven, for others it's anticipated with dread. We always engage with our staff, in open and honest discussions about their future with us, and what will work for both them as individuals and the business. We've had people reduce the number of days they work or they continue to work with us on a freelance consultancy or project basis. We even have different generations of the same family working here.

I understand the arguments being made about this change, especially from a small company viewpoint as the IoD highlight on their website. Firstly, in reference to the feeling that HR support to enable this to happen with low risk may be too costly, there is help. In fact, this is where ACAS, Business Link, and HR networks come into their own. Their advice and services are by no means cost prohibitive as many of them are free. Here are a couple of links that may help: 

Secondly, it would seem to suggest that some businesses have used the default retirement age to get rid of under performers. There's also the assumption that the older you are the more likely you are to underperform, leading to more dismissals.

It's unfortunate that attitudes towards the older generation in this country have still got a long way to go. Every business should invest the time in developing robust capability procedures and actively use them - rather than waiting for someone to conveniently reach retirement age. Businesses need to educate and empower their management teams to give them the confidence to manage these matters in a fair and open manner - not hide behind the DRA. 

At the end of the day, the demographics within the UK are changing; less couples are having children and there is a growing older population that are still very active. This change in legislation could therefore be good for both parties. After all, there are many examples of older people contributing a great deal of wisdom, expertise and dedication to business - from the boardroom to the supermarket shop floor.

Take B&Q, for example, who are renowned for hiring older people; last year there was much publicity around their 95-year old member of staff, Sid Prior, who was tipped to be the UK's oldest employee. It's the likes of B&Q that have proved the older worker is a valuable part of the labour market. After all, being able to fulfil a role is a matter of performance and not age. That's what counts.


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