Want to do well at work? Don't get old

Age is the biggest obstacle to getting on at work, according to a new study

senior engineer training a newly hired

A fifth of all UK workers say that age is the biggest factor getting in the way of career progression. We are among the worst in Europe for ageism - with only people in the Netherlands and Switzerland citing it as more of a problem than in the UK.

See also: Over-50s still facing discrimination in jobs market despite equality laws

See also: Quarter of 60-somethings feel treated differently to younger workers, study says

See also: What are your chances of working in retirement?


The study, by ADP, found that as workers get older, they are more likely to say that ageism gets in the way of their career - with 46% of the over 55s and 27% of those aged between 45 and 54 feeling this way. It's the most common obstacle UK employees come up against, with lack of opportunities with their current employer second at 7%, family needs third (6%), and favouritism and lack of qualifications in joint forth place (5%).

Part of the issue is that as employees get older, employers show far less interest in supporting their career development. While 79% of those aged 16-24 think their employer is very interested in development, this drops to 60% by the time they reach the age of 45.

There is an assumption that someone at the age of 45 has reached their peak, and only has a few good years left at work. It means employers will focus their attention on young whipper-snappers who they hope will be the next big thing.

It reflects findings last month by Nationwide Building Society that older workers are not treated in the same way as other employees. Respondents to that study said that older workers were given the worst jobs to sort out, their opinions were not respected, and they felt ignored.

Arguably if your employer is holding you back at work, you can simply move on. However, as you get older, this gets more difficult too. A study in February found that a 50-year-old applicant was 22% less likely to be invited to an interview than a younger applicant with the same qualifications. This trend was discovered despite the fact that the researchers included details on the CV to demonstrate that the applicant remained mentally and physically active - including mountain biking, learning languages and working with computers.

Missing a trick

This is incredibly short-sighted, as the days of people reaching 45 and counting the last few years to early retirement are long-gone. Nowadays, an employee at the age of 45 might well want to work for another 25 years. They are likely to remain in excellent physical and mental health for the vast majority of this time, so an employer who supports their growth now can secure some of their finest decades of work in the future.

Fortunately, not every employer is so blinkered to the potential offered by older workers. Some will particularly target older workers, and will ensure they receive ongoing training to meet their potential. We reported last month on Robert Brown, a 67-year-old former police officer from Canterbury, who recently went to work for Co-op Funeralcare. They invested in training him up as a funeral care operative and a funeral arranger - and as a result he became what may be the country's oldest apprentice.

And Robert is not alone. Co-op Funeralcare says that one in three of its apprentices are over the age of 50. The life experience they bring to the role is an important advantage when working for clients who are going through an incredibly difficult time, and need someone who can offer strength and support.

Over time, the government is pushing for more opportunities for older people. Andy Briggs, the Government's Business Champion for Older Workers, has called for every employer to increase the number of people aged 50-70 that they employ by 12% by 2022.

But what do you think? Will this make any difference? Or will getting old remain the biggest hindrance to your career? Let us know in the comments.

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