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CIPD - SMEs need to do more to adapt to a changing, age diverse workforce

Small medium-sized enterprises are putting their growth at risk by failing to adapt to the changing workforce as almost half admit having no activities in place to ensure they have access to enough skilled and diverse people of all ages.

That is according to the latest research from CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, and the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives into SME experiences and attitudes towards age diversity in the workplace. An ageing population is giving rise to an increasingly age diverse labour market, yet few small businesses are doing enough, or anything at all, to appeal to workers of different ages and unlock the benefits they bring. 

Age diversity in SMEs: reaping the benefits’ gathered the views of almost 600 senior decision makers in SMEs across the UK and found that small businesses on the whole recognise the different skills that workers of different ages bring. The survey has revealed that small businesses believe that a age diverse workforce benefits a business with not only improved knowledge sharing, but that it also brings better problem solving skills and a more enhanced customer service. Only a small percentage saw no benefits at all. Older workers were also seen in an extremely positive light – nine out of ten SMEs said they have a valuable contribution to make. 

Despite the obvious gains to be made, the research shows that small businesses are not doing as much as they could do to attract, recruit and support workers of diverse ages.  And while SMEs believe that training older employees is a good return on their investment, there are other areas where they need to improve their offering to ensure that they can support more mature employees. 

The survey shows that employing an age diverse workforce is not without its challenges. The top three potential sources of discord highlighted by the small businesses surveyed were perceived misunderstandings between different age groups, age stereotyping and a lack of shared interests. Similarly, when it comes to employing more mature workers, almost half of SMEs believe that young managers struggle to manage them.

Key findings include: 

  • The majority of small businesses surveyed (60 per cent) have never recruited mature workers over the age of 65.  This may explain why only five per cent of workers in UK SMEs falls into the 65+ age bracket, despite the abolition of the default retirement age back in 2011. 

  • Focusing specifically on mature employees, a third of SMEs surveyed do not offer any support for the extension of working life whatsoever, while over a third don’t have any health or wellbeing provisions in place. Large employers are much more tuned into the needs of older workers; only a fifth surveyed in late 2013 said they did nothing to support the extension of working life.  

  • Currently less than a third of small businesses provide the option of flexible working to all their employees, only a quarter offer it to support childcare and only a fifth for the caring of elderly dependents – an issue which will be even more significant in the future. 

Dianah Worman, Public Policy Advisor at CIPD, said: “Our research into age diversity in SMEs paints a largely positive picture.  It’s good to see that small businesses, just like their large business peers, clearly see the benefits of an age diverse workforce.  Some are working hard to cater for different workers of different ages but, on the whole, we found that small businesses have a lot more to do if they are to tap into the full range of benefits an age diverse workforce can bring. Employers are currently missing a trick by not offering flexible working to all employees and by not adapting to the changing needs of a changing workforce. Healthcare, provision for employees with caring responsibilities – these are just some of the many things SMEs need to be thinking about now to prepare for the future.  Failure to do so could mean they miss out on the full range of talent available, putting their business at a serious competitive disadvantage.” 

To download the full report, ‘Age diversity in SMEs: reaping the benefits’ click here

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