How Covid has impacted older workers’ jobs

Covid has had a massive impact on everything. On everyone. We’ve talked a lot about vulnerable people. We’ve talked a lot about frontline workers. We’ve talked a lot about millennials and Gen Z. But have we talked enough about our older workers? Steven Copsey, Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant at Inclusive Employers, doesn’t think we have.

Older workers and furlough

First of all… and sorry to break this to some of you out there, the ONS categorises an older worker as someone aged 50 and over.

In 2019, almost a third of the UK workforce was made up of people aged 50 to 64 (4% of these were over 65s).

Over 25% of furloughed employees were aged 50 and over – with almost a third of them thinking there was a high chance that they might not even have a job to come back to when the scheme ended. 11% of over 65s lost their jobs entirely due to the pandemic.

From December 2020 to Feb 2021, non-furloughed employees aged 50 and over were more likely to report working fewer hours than normal (including zero hours in some circumstances) than those aged under 50. That likelihood of working reduced hours increases further if you’re 65 and over.

Some of you may be thinking, if older workers make up a third of the workforce, then surely they should be happy that they’re only making up a quarter of all those furloughed? Most of us have probably heard that almost half of all under 25s were furloughed and with this age group making up a smaller percentage of the UK workforce they were definitely disproportionately affected. 

So yes, the over 50s didn’t have it as bad as some, but for those older workers who were furloughed or lost their jobs, there’s something else to deal with.

Long-term impact of furlough for ‘older’ workers

Older people who become unemployed are far more likely to be at risk of long-term unemployment than young people. On average, six months after becoming unemployed, almost three-quarters of 16-49 year-olds had returned to employment, compared to fewer than two-thirds of those aged over 50.

There’ll be an obvious knock-on affect for their retirement plans too. Some may have been forced to retire earlier, and therefore reduce their income and quality of life through retirement; while some may have to work for longer to make up for lost earnings.

These are massive life impacts. And why? Because of age bias. 36% of 50-69 year olds feel at a disadvantage applying for jobs due to their age. More than a third!

Is age discrimination overlooked?

According to the Centre for Ageing Better, Age Discrimination is the least scrutinised and the most accepted form of discrimination in the UK. Only two thirds of employers have some sort of diversity or equal opportunity policies in relation to age, yet almost a quarter have faced trouble with managing age in the workplace.

How can employers support older employees better?


Eliminating age bias in recruitment has to be one to the first steps to tackling this problem. It’s also one of the trickiest to implement. While you can roll out non-identifiable CVs that remove dates of birth and years people attended school or university – some people might really want you to know that they’ve spent 20 years in one role and 15 years in another. That means your brain will automatically get a feel for the age of a candidate.

So rather than shy away from thinking about age, we need to approach it from a different perspective. What does 20 years in this role mean from an experiential perspective? What skills might they have learnt? What’s their expertise? Do they have a career history that shows they have a great capacity for adaptability? What industry insights might they have?

You might also want to think about your job ads. Who are you targeting? Do your ads imply that you’re looking for younger rather than older workers? Why couldn’t someone over 50 apply for a job in a call centre? They may have 30 years of incredible customer service experience to offer but feel they can’t apply if you’re looking for “empathetic, energised and effervescent individuals.”

So think about how you can make your recruitment campaigns more all-age inclusive. Maybe you can have “older worker” champions in your workforce involved in this process?

Health support

Data tells us that 40% of over 60s have a disability. You’re also more at risk of other health conditions the older you get. However, 42% of people aged 45 and over with a health condition report that they get no support from their employer.

Make sure your working environment is a place where anyone can feel comfortable talking about their health conditions if they so choose. Make sure they have a clear and structured way to request support if they need it more than you can offer. Ensure they understand that reasonable adjustments are available for them. Some of your employees could have been with you for decades. They may have had no conditions or disabilities that required adjustments when they started.  Now they might! How can we start having these conversations in the workplace?

Flexible working

Over the last year we’ve seen a massive shift into the perception of flexible working. This is no longer seen as solely an adjustment for those who have parent or caring responsibilities.

Depending on health conditions and disabilities, accessibility to locations may be more difficult for older workers. How can we flex to ensure that are able to do their jobs remotely, in a different office or even in a hybrid fashion?

Development opportunities

Ensuring that older workers are not overlooked when it comes to training courses, upskilling, mentoring opportunities and promotions is key to making your workplaces more age-inclusive. Are we still having career guidance and progression conversations with those workers over the age of 50? If not, why not? Some of our over 50s will be in the workplace for another 20 years or so, that’s a chance for a whole new career or specialisation to grow and develop if they so wish.

Some of our older workers don’t feel they have the technology advantage that some of our younger workers might. Think about IT literacy and the assumption we have about younger workers that have grown up with this technology being able to use this competently without formal on the job training. Why do we make these assumptions?

Can we look to offer lunch and learns that focus on technology skills, on different types of software? Even if older workers aren’t interested in pursuing a different career at the time, they’ll still probably find a lot of this useful. They might even be able to use their vast experience and think about different ways to use this software going forwards. 

We need to act now

This isn’t something that we can leave for a few years and slot into our agendas when we have a gap. We need to start focussing on this now. Age is something that affects us all. Think about the largest generation in our workforce at the moment. Millennials. In 10 years’ time the oldest of the millennial generation will be turning 50. Think about that for a second… By 2031 millennials will start to become older workers.

Over the last decade, the number of people working into their 70s has doubled. More and more of us will be working into our 70s and beyond over the coming decades, with more than a third of millennials expecting to still be working in their 70s. 1 in 8 millennials expect to be working until they die.

If we can make our workplaces more age-inclusive now, more comfortable for older workers, we’re making all our futures more comfortable too.

For more information about how to support older workers Members can speak to their Inclusive Employers’ account manager or see our resource, Multi-generations in the Workplace.

If you’re not yet a member of Inclusive Employers then please get in touch using our contact form.