** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life when you...read more
Our sister site workingwise.co.uk launches National Older Workers Week in November. There is much crossover with workingmums.co.uk.
There are many things to be learned from tackling different forms of discrimination. The work done on gender pay audits, for instance, has prompted calls for similar monitoring when it comes to race, disability and sexuality. I work across workingmums.co.uk and workingwise.co.uk, our sister site aimed at older workers. The latter evolved out of our work on parents. We were already covering issues such as carers, including the so-called sandwich generation of mainly women who have to care for children and parents, menopause, gendered ageism, returners and the gender pension gap which links to pay issues and decisions often made when people start families. We were aware of the interest in flexible working and work life balance across the board and knew that for many workers approaching retirement this is a huge issue.
We wanted to expand to look at the main pinchpoints across the work life cycle. An effective employer which wants to attract and retain employees must, after all, understand the common pressure points that affect a large number of its employees.
On 22nd November we are launching our first National Older Workers Week to discuss not just the issues facing older workers, but also managing multigenerational teams. In preparation for the four panel discussions during the week, I have been looking through our older workers survey and talking to some of the people who took part. Similar stories come back. Many have been unemployed for some time and there is a pronounced feeling that their age is counting against them. Months of applying unsuccessfully for jobs, despite reams of experience, have a crushing effect despite all the advice not to take it personally. Many feel that the system is stacked against them in favour of younger workers and that assumptions are made that they can’t learn [despite having experience a rollercoaster of mergers, restructures and technological change over the last decades], don’t do IT [despite some having lots of IT experience clearly laid out on their cvs], that they just ‘don’t fit’.
One woman, a mum in her late 40s, had been a senior strategist, but had moved abroad for two years with her husband. On her return, she set up a business that was not related to her original line of work and then decided to try to get back to the workplace. She can’t find a job. She did a master’s and picked up some temporary work. She still can’t get a job. So she is doing a PhD. She feels that it is somehow her fault, that she made the ‘wrong’ decisions and has made herself “unemployable”. She told me: “It feels as if they are looking for a certain type of person at a certain stage in their career and I just don’t fit.” But surely it is the recruitment system that is at fault for not being open-minded enough to the huge range of human experience.
I’ve also been doing a series of interviews with older workers to address some of the myths about older workers and to show just how capable, adaptable and resilient they are.
There are stories of people hugely motivated to give back in any way they can. One woman from the airline industry set up a support organisation for her colleagues who were furloughed or made redundant as a result of Covid; another was sofa-bound due to an illness possibly linked to Covid, but managed to write some key emails to help improve her local community; another has just completed a wing walk for cancer, aged 54. And there are stories of resilience, people overcoming not just health issues and change, but bullying, bereavement and much more.
One of the things that has struck me the most doing these interviews is how little we hear from and listen to older people – not celebrities or millionaires, but ordinary people talking about their lives and in particular women. One woman who had worked in video production then education and, while having trouble finding a job, had developed a sideline adapting old abandoned furniture sent me some feedback after I posted her story which has really stuck with me. She said simply: “It’s so lovely to be heard, which many women of my age just aren’t.”
*WM People is holding the first National Older Workers Week, sponsored by QA Ltd, from 22nd November. The week will include a range of different events targeted at both employers and candidates and the findings of our latest candidates’ survey.