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5 management tips if you employ an ageing workforce

Are you prepared and equipped to handle your ageing workforce?

Are you losing a skilled and long-serving workforce or will you lose them in the near future? How do you terminate an employee who would have retired under the old laws?It does seem to be an ever-increasing issue as out of the blue long-serving members of staff are suddenly giving notice. Companies lose years of knowledge, skills and experience in a short period of time. Alternatively, you have an employee who is no longer performing like they were and you face the difficult situation of having to performance manage or negotiate their exit.

As an employer, you no longer have the clear-cut picture of an end date of an employee’s employment on reaching a certain age. Some employees may be vocal regarding their desire to retire or leave employment. However just because they indicate their desire to retire it doesn’t mean that they will retire within that period. They may change their mind. Until you have official notice you cannot rely on hearsay that an employee will retire.

Some employees will stay silent and out of the blue, you receive their notice and you are left with minimal time to recruit. You are then tasked with getting the new recruit or another employee proficient with that employee’s skills and experience. The other issue, as I have mentioned, is the scenario in which your employee does not want to retire and they want to work as long as they can. However, they are no longer capable to undertake their role any longer which impacts on the Company.


Unless it can be objectively justified it is no longer acceptable to dismiss an older worker on grounds of retirement. Employees can retire at a time of their choosing. However, you cannot force employees to retire or set a retirement age unless it can be objectively justified as what the law terms ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.’

Practical advice and tips

Risk management

As stated, you no longer have the clear-cut picture of an end date of an employee’s employment. You, therefore, need to assess the risk to your Company of losing certain employees within a potentially short period of time. Can anyone else undertake their role? Are they the sole employee who knows how to undertake that role? Do you have someone who could cover that role if that employee was to retire or terminate their employment with one month’s notice? Do you know what notice the employee has to give? If the answer is no, you need to assess and address this risk immediately. You need to ensure that you have knowledge of that role. That you have someone in the Company who can undertake that role if required. Can you train someone else to do the role or take over in the interim period?

Succession planning

You don’t want to be in a position of losing an employee or several employees who have 30 years of knowledge and experience. They probably know their role inside and out and you have no one else who can undertake that role or no one knows precisely what that person does.

We recommend getting someone in to review your roles and work with the employees to record and document their role. To process their role and make a manual of the work they undertake. You should have recorded each role in a training matrix.

Job rotation and shadowing

You should consider job rotation and shadowing. This will enable you to ensure that at least one other employee knows that role.

Shadowing and job training can cause problems. Some employees are reluctant to share knowledge as they consider the safety of their role is in jeopardy. Job rotation can cause a temporary issue in production – in particular, if you take your stronger members of the team off the production line. However, job rotation can lead to a happy workforce, particularly in some mundane jobs. It can improve performance as a new person could recognise a strength or weakness in a process. It means that you have better cover over the holiday season or if an employee goes on long-term sick. In the long term, it means that you are ready if an employee were to retire or resign.4.

Meet with your employees and ascertain their plan for the future

Whatever the age of an employee, discussing in a general way their future aims and aspirations is useful. It can help you identify training or development needs and provide an opportunity to discuss future work requirements. For all employees, these discussions may involve the question of how they see themselves in the following few years. How they view their contribution to the company. A useful exercise is to ask open questions regarding an employee’s aims and plans for the short, medium and long-term. You may find it useful to hold these discussions as part of the employee’s formal appraisal process.

Avoid asking any direct question such as ‘are you planning to retire in the near future?’ However, if your employee indicates they wish to retire discuss with them the date they want to retire and any working arrangements towards that date.

Monitor the age in your workplace

Most of you will have information that shows the ages of your workforce. It makes sense to analyse this information to get an age profile of your workplace. This profile will help you arrange any remedial action. For example, do you need to plan for a peak of older workers leaving the business? Take positive action to rectify any obvious imbalance in ages?

Are your managers equipped to conduct workplace discussions in a fair way and effectively? Poorly-conducted workplace discussions can prove costly for a business. We can train managers how to conduct all types of workplace discussions and can do it for you on your premises.

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