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Covid and Older Workers in UK – Age not seen as a priority diversity issue by the employers

Although the proportion of people aged 50 and over in the workforce has steadily increased over the past three decades, many older workers are not
able to find the fulling work that they desire. When seeking a new role, age discrimination may be a significant barrier for older workers, as age is the
least scrutinised and most widely accepted form of discrimination in the UK (Abrams, Swift and Houston, 2018). To better understand how to support good recruitment for older workers, the Centre for Ageing Better (Ageing Better) has commissioned this research to explore the current recruitment landscape in the UK in the context of older workers. This research explores employers’ current recruitment practices and approaches to addressing diversity and inclusion, specifically age, in recruitment. The method consisted of a rapid evidence review of grey and academic literature, a secondary data analysis of existing surveys of HR and recruitment professionals and interviews with recruitment, inclusion and diversity and Human Resource (HR) professionals from a range of industries.

Several global events shaped the wider context of this research. In March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic forced the UK into lockdown, causing many industries to temporarily cease operating. The impact of Covid-19 presented several issues for this research: difficulty in securing interviews with recruitment and HR professionals in the desired industries; and a substantial shift in the current recruitment landscape as employers adapted to new virtual working practices. Additionally, the Black Lives Matter movement came to the forefront of international media attention and it is likely that, to some extent, this shaped the content of our interviews, increasing their focus on racial and ethnic diversity in the workplace.

The findings suggest that the employers in this sample generally followed a comparable recruitment process involving similar types of activities, which included creating a job description, advertising and shortlisting, multiple interviews and skills testing, with some variations in the implementation of specific recruitment methods. The sector and size of an organisation appeared to influence the process, over and above industry. Public sector and larger organisations tended to have organisational strategies, centralised processes and guidance and tools that they could draw upon, resulting in a more structured recruitment process that integrated practices aimed to improve some elements of diversity (most commonly gender, ethnicity and disability).

Age was not seen as a priority diversity issue by the employers involved in this research. This was due to most employers believing they are already diverse in relation to age and therefore did not have a ‘age problem’ requiring action. A small number of employers analysed workforce age data to guide and justify this decision making, however others suggested they could tell their organisation was age diverse by simply ‘looking around the organisation’. On the whole, employers did not analyse the age data of their workforce or candidates to support organisational prioritisation and decision making. In contrast, gender and ethnicity were most often cited by organisations as areas of diversity that needed immediate action and were more commonly measured and analysed. Therefore, most employers did not report implementing any specific age-friendly practices to support the recruitment of older workers. In a small number of employers who had considered age, it was the lack of younger workers that they believed was problematic. Some employers suggested there would have to be a ‘specific problem’, such as an age discrimination claim, to be motivated to act on the age agenda. When probed on age, employers tended not to think about age and HR practices in a binary way e.g. implementing different practices for older worker compared to younger workers. Instead, they conceptualised age as a spectrum where their recruitment activities can be applied to and benefit, people of all ages e.g. graduate recruitment is not just designed for those under 25.

From analysing the recruitment practices described by the employers involved in this research, several areas of risk threatening the inclusivity of the recruitment process for older workers were identified:
– Lack of diversity strategies within an organisation, or the exclusion of age
as a core element of a strategy.
– Job descriptions that are not assessed for ageist language or include criteria that excludes older workers, such as particular qualifications or experience.
– Presence of age-related stereotypes and negative perceptions, such as older workers being less ‘presentable’, less physically fit, or having poor IT skills in comparison to younger workers.
– Poor use of age data; assumptions about the extent to which age diversity is an issue within an organisation are often made without critical analysis workforce or recruitment data.

Other risk factors that threatening the inclusivity of the recruitment process more widely, not just in relation to older workers, were also identified:
– An emphasis on assessing the ‘cultural fit’ of a candidate, typically using
subjective and unstructured approaches that are liable to age bias.
– Use of unstructured interviews where interviewers do not use the same questions for all candidates, or only one interviewer is present. This can result in candidates being assessed on different criteria and individual bias entering the recruitment process.
– Gathering of subjective feedback – the collection of ‘informal’ feedback from a wider team or the non-standardised evaluation of candidate performance increases the likelihood of biased views related to age.
– Individual decision-makers can often have the final say on a recruitment decision, without much consideration given to the potential attitudes and biases held by that person.
Overall, most employers from this sample did not report implementing any age-specific recruitment practices to support older workers. The literature however, although sparse, provided some evidence of recruitment practices that may be effective in reducing old age bias:
– Using a wide range of advertising methods that specifically target older workers, such as using imagery of older workers on advertising collateral and using a range of advertising channels more relevant to older workers, thus increasing the likelihood of an age-diverse longlist.
– Using application methods that reduce the likelihood of capturing explicit and implicit age cues. For example, explicitly stating that candidate’s age or date birth are removed from CVs and only accepting application forms that ask job-relevant questions.
– Considering the attitudes and overall influence of the decision maker – ensuring that decision-makers do not hold ageist attitudes and consider multiple decision makers to reduce the undue influence of individuals.
One way this could be addressed is by taking an organisational approach to create an inclusive culture that challenges negative attitudes and celebrates the contribution of workers of all ages.

The current recruitment landscape for older workers

The recruitment methods implemented by the employers in this sample followed a similar overall process, although the structure of the process and
the specific recruitment activities varied by several different factors. The process can be grouped into three stages: pre-interview, interview and post interview stage. The types of activities falling within each stage are depicted below.

The impact of Covid-19 on future trends

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the recruitment landscape was characterised by many recruiters as a tight, candidate-driven market in which employers had to work hard to attract top quality talent. Following the crisis, and as the market enters an economic recession, the trends in recruitment may change.

Most notably, an increase in job losses and greater numbers of people job-seeking will provide a wider pool of talent for employers to choose from but may also mean vast numbers of applications per vacancy. One interviewee reported they had received 500 applications for a single administrative role, considerably higher than expected.
It will be even more important for organisations to have efficient and effective processes in place to handle this extra leg work. In part this may mean a greater reliance on technology to do some of the work for them. The literature mentioned use of AI in some recruitment processes, however this was not reflected in the interviews.

During the lockdown many employers will have relied on technology to continue recruitment, with video interviews and virtual on-boarding including the use of e-learning platforms. These virtual methods have not only allowed recruiters to continue hiring through the lockdown, but they remove the geographical limitations resulting in a wider talent pool to recruit from. Evidence from the interviews suggest than many employers intend to continue using virtual interviewing methods in the future. The age diversity impact of increased use of virtual methods is not clear and will require further future research.

Similarly, many employers have been forced to introduce remote working practices to continue working during the crisis. Many employers have discovered the benefits of remote working and will continue to offer it as more than just an occasional perk. This will also help widen employer’s talent pools, as recruiters will not be limited to people within a commutable distance or those who are willing to relocate.

Employer brand is also likely to continue to be a focus as there are fewer opportunities for candidates to interact with employers at jobs fairs for example. Communication with candidates will be key to draw attention to opportunities within an organisation. Strong employer branding and online presence is also a useful tool to keep talent interested and engaged even if there are not active vacancies.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Good recruitment for older workers: the current and future recruitment landscape

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