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Covid and the impact on older workers

If you’re an older worker struggling with work during the pandemic, or an employer who wants to help your older employees, Susy Roberts has some reassurance and advice.

One of the lasting legacies of the pandemic will be the increase in working from home. And while this new flexibility is welcomed by many, it’s not a development that everyone is happy about.

Older people in particular are experiencing changes at an unusual rate. Remote working isn’t something older people grew up with and it’s a particular problem for people who aren’t technologically savvy. There’s quite a big difference between becoming familiar with the IT you need in an office and suddenly being thrust into a world of remote working.

It’s a whole new level of having to know about WiFi networks, audio connections and the various inputs and outputs you need to connect to virtual meetings, not to mention all the new platforms people have to become familiar with.

Before COVID, the technology gap had reduced quite drastically and there were very few people in the workplace who lacked the IT skills needed to in today’s world of work. But home working has brought all that back into the spotlight, causing feelings of inadequacy and making people feel disconnected. That’s on top of the extra worry that older people have in terms of vulnerability to the virus, combined with anxiety about losing a job in a very fragile economy.

Older people often support their grown-up children financially and practically. Many of them combine part-time work with childcare for their grandchildren, who they may not have been able to see during lockdown or for periods of self-isolation and quarantine. The whole landscape has changed for older people and the impact on mental health will be huge.

For older people who’ve lost their job, need to upskill or change industries, organisations such as Penna offer very good support. There are also a lot of free resources online: most recruitment companies provide tips on how to write CVs and how to do well in interviews, for example. There’s also a lot of vocational training available, particularly for people in the lower income sector or those who are receiving benefits. The government’s careers and skills training website is a good place to start.

Some older people have the benefit of being table to take early retirement rather than switch sectors, although that’s not an option that everyone has the luxury of. For those who do want to switch sectors apprenticeships are an excellent way to pursue a new career and learn new skills at any age. There’s no upper age limit and they pay more than a state pension.

For older people who are still in work, all decent organisations should be looking for the right outplacement support. They may not have a legal responsibility to do so, but I would say there is a moral responsibility for every employer to ensure their workforce is taken care of. This applies to all employers, even those with only one or two employees. When you become an employer you take on responsibilities and obligations. All employers have an obligation for the wellbeing of your staff, and this applies to all age groups.

The Centre for Ageing Better has some very good resources for older people and advice on how employers can support their older employees to be in work for as long as they want to be. It’s also worth mentioning that the Equality Act protects older workers from age discrimination, so while employers may not have to provide signposting or help with new skills or finding alternative work, they do have to ensure that they provide older workers with the same support as younger employees.