Good Recruitment for Older Workers: A guide for employers
This recruitment guide sets out five key actions, with checklists designed to help your organisation to become a more age-inclusive employer.
This guide is based on our Good Recruitment for Older Workers (GROW) project findings. It is designed to help organisations recognise the negative role that age-related discrimination plays in recruitment processes and provide practical suggestions for you as an employer to become more age-inclusive.
Download the PDF to read the guide in full.
The current recruitment environment
The current recruitment environment is not as age-inclusive as it could be. More than a third (36%)¹ of 50-70 year olds say they feel at a disadvantage when applying for jobs due to their age. They felt this at every stage of the recruitment process, from the language in job adverts to ageism by interview panels.
Our previous research² found that age is the least scrutinised and most widely accepted form of discrimination in the UK. Despite this, recent research³ by by YouGov for the Centre for Ageing Better shows that the majority (51%) of employers in England are unlikely to introduce or develop policies relating to age in the next 12 months.
With many of us working for longer, and rising job losses⁴ due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for employers to be committed and proactive in building age-inclusive workforces. Otherwise, they will risk missing out on all the advantages a multigenerational workforce has to offer.
Why be age-inclusive?
Recruiting inclusively to build a multigenerational workforce is a ‘win-win’ for everyone.
Older workers are good for business
Recent analysis by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)⁵ shows that a firm with a 10% higher share of workers aged 50 and over is 1.1% more productive. These productivity gains come from lower job turnover and the greater management and general work experience of older workers.
Being age-inclusive benefits younger workers as well
According to a recent study by YouGov⁶, eight in ten employers (79%) in England state that older workers could help in knowledge and skill sharing. Far from being in competition with each another, different age groups working together can help businesses thrive and individuals learn.
Being age-inclusive helps people who want to stay in work for longer
Being in good quality, fulfilling work for as long as people want is critical for people’s financial security now and in the future. Older workers value⁷ the same things in work as younger workers, including social connections developed in the workplace and having a sense of purpose.
Age inclusivity boosts the economy
Research⁸ shows that a 1% increase in the number of people aged 50-64 in work could increase GDP by around £5.7 billion per year and have a positive impact on income tax and National Insurance Contributions by around £800 million per year. In our latest employer YouGov survey⁸, 76% of employers in England agreed that older workers’ experience is crucial to the success of the organisation.
This guide is designed to help make sure positive attitudes towards older workers are reflected in your organisation’s recruitment processes and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) policies.
1. Put age into ED&I
- Include a short diversity statement in job adverts emphasising age-inclusivity.
- Consider the cumulative effect of how age interacts with other characteristics such as sex, ethnicity or disability and consult with staff on how to reduce any negative impacts.
- If using cultural ‘fit’ criteria in your assessment, ensure that the criteria against which the ‘fit’ will be assessed is transparent, applied consistently across candidates and clearly communicated during recruitment.
As age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, your organisation could be subject to a legal challenge of discrimination if you do not take account of age in recruitment and in all aspects of staffing policy and practice.
Include a short diversity statement in job adverts emphasising age-inclusivity
Our GROW project¹⁰ findings show that the inclusion of a short diversity statement can increase both older applicants’ likelihood of applying and their understanding of how well they will fit in.
For example¹¹: ‘We’re actively building diverse teams and welcome applications from everyone including people of different ages.’
It’s also important to signal in job adverts that you’re willing to make any reasonable adjustments throughout the recruitment process as an employer. This could be anything from providing equipment such as a headset or adjustable desk to supporting scheduled breaks, all of which will enable people to manage health conditions or caring responsibilities, which are more common as people get older. If older workers are under-represented or not supported in your workforce, the law allows you to take Positive Action¹² to help with this.
Consider the cumulative impact of how age interacts with other protected characteristics such as sex, ethnicity or disability in your ED&I strategy and consult with staff on how to reduce any negative impacts
Research suggests that people from multiple disadvantaged groups experience heightened levels of discrimination. For instance, one study¹³ found that older Black-British applicants were 9.4 times less likely to be invited to an interview compared to an older White-British applicant.
Being aware of these intersections at every stage of the recruitment process is crucial. This could also be a problem for existing employees, so consult and implement any further measures you can to reduce bias across protected characteristics.
If using cultural ‘fit’ criteria in your assessment, ensure that the criteria against which the ‘fit’ will be assessed is transparent, applied consistently across candidates and clearly communicated during recruitment
No candidates should be judged on ambiguous and informal criteria, and as such ageist views can masquerade as ‘poor cultural fit’. For example¹⁴, an interviewee reported that their organisation looks for someone who is ‘dynamic and ambitious’ or ‘sociable and outgoing’, characteristics that are often associated with younger people.
Any ‘fit’ should be narrowly focused on a limited set of values and employers should challenge values that ‘cover up’ any non-inclusive recruitment decisions.
2. Know your numbers
- Regularly collect and scrutinise age data from the recruitment process.
- Collect and analyse the age profile of the current workforce as well as job applicants to evaluate whether job ads are attracting candidates of all ages.
- Have a senior responsible sponsor/advocate within your organisation who can act on any identified under-representation.
Monitoring workforce data on age diversity is fundamental to workforce retention, skills planning and forecasting how your workforce profile will change over time.
Our research¹⁵ shows that while most employers believe their organisation is age-inclusive, these opinions were often based on subjective judgements rather than the gathering of age-specific data. Without collecting and comparing data on potential and current employees it’s impossible to know how your organisation is doing on age-inclusivity.
Regularly collect and scrutinise age data from the recruitment process
Collecting age data can help identify specific diversity issues within your organisation so you can find solutions to them. Always ensure your collection, storage and use of data is GDPR compliant.
Data you may want to analyse could include: age of applicants, age of people being shortlisted, age of interviewers, age of successful applicants, age of different role types and age of people who successfully complete probation – as well as examining how age interacts with other characteristics such as gender, ethnicity or disability.
Collect and analyse the age profile of the current workforce as well as job applicants to evaluate whether job adverts are attracting candidates of all ages
This can help pinpoint issues in your recruitment process.
For instance, the OECD’s gathering of age-specific data¹⁶ revealed that the hiring rates for older workers across OECD countries is half that of younger workers, with fewer than one in ten employees in the 55-64 age group being new hires.
Have a senior responsible sponsor/advocate within your organisation who can act on any identified under-representation
If the data highlights areas for development, making senior leadership and decision makers aware is the first step to improving issues of under-representation. This knowledge is key to workforce risk registers and to be able to make any changes needed.
3. Debias your job adverts
- Emphasise employer benefits that might appeal to older workers, such as flexible working.
- Frame and word job adverts with care, ensuring that they aren’t age-biased.
- Circulate job adverts as widely as possible, using multiple platforms.
How you create and communicate job descriptions, employee benefits and flexible working arrangements is fundamental to building an inclusive reputation and brand for your organisation.
Emphasise employer benefits that might appeal to older workers
Flexible working (working more or fewer hours, or in a different pattern) is the number one workplace¹⁷ factor that people aged 50 and over themselves say would help them to work for longer. But despite often being considered a standard part of employment terms, these benefits are rarely highlighted by recruiters, with flexible working appearing in just 5.5% of job adverts¹⁸. Employers should:
Make sure that the benefits your organisation offers, such as flexible working or generous workplace pensions, are highlighted in job adverts.
Read our toolkit with Timewise¹⁹ for more information on making flexible working available to all ages.
Frame and word job adverts with care, ensuring that they aren’t age-biased
It’s important to consider that using language that appeals more broadly to older people does not deter²⁰ young applicants. Simply using more age-inclusive language and emphasising employer benefits in job adverts is likely to both increase the size and age range of a candidate pool, as well as ensuring that every applicant feels that they have the best chance of success. When writing job adverts, you should focus on:
Avoiding the use of age-biased language, by replacing terms such as ‘innovative’, ‘technologically savvy’ and ‘recent graduate’ with specific behaviours and skills required for the job, such as ‘programming skills’.
Including positive and realistic images of older people in job adverts, for example from our free ‘Age-positive Image library’.
Effects of age-stereotypical words and phrases, and CV features in job adverts, on older applicants
I have seen wording like that and immediately think… Whoever has written that has already got a bias
Circulate job adverts as widely as possible, using multiple platforms
Research²¹ found that word-of-mouth and personal recommendation were the most popular recruitment methods in 2019, with 71% using this approach. However, these are arguably the least effective methods²² for increasing diversity in an organisation, as individuals often unintentionally surround themselves with people like themselves. Focus on:
Sharing job adverts widely and across multiple digital platforms, making it more likely for them to reach people from a wider range of backgrounds, increasing the number of applications.
Use age-positive recruitment campaigns to reach out and attract the widest pool of talent. However, in interviewing and shortlisting age should not be used as a factor in decision-making.
4. Check your process
- Structure your interview process using multiple decision-makers, predefined questions and scoring mechanisms.
- Use application processes that reduce explicit and implicit age cues.
- Use language shown to promote age diversity.
We know that age-related discrimination can impact all stages of the recruitment process, and different ages are affected in different ways. Reviewing your recruitment tools and processes as they relate to older applicants will help.
Structure your interview process using multiple decision-makers, predefined questions and scoring mechanisms
Unstructured interviews have been found²³ to be among the worst predictors of on-the-job performance and are fraught with bias. Additionally, our GROW project²⁴ showed that having an age-diverse interview panel can reduce the chance of candidates of different ages feeling 'out of place' and at a disadvantage. Employers should:
Commit to using predefined questions and scoring mechanisms in interviews.
Ensure that your interview panels have multiple people and are as diverse and inclusive as possible.
Use application processes that reduce explicit and implicit age cues
Make sure that tools used within the application process are accessible for all workers. For instance, standardised application forms that ask for details like full working history can disadvantage²⁵ older workers. They can be very time-consuming to fill in and often will give an indication of someone’s age without any age being given.
Employers should instead consider implementing a blind application process (removing any and all identification details from your candidates’ resumes and applications). For instance:
Removing any non-essential details on application forms that might indicate someone’s age. For example, ask for ‘relevant work history’ as opposed to an entire working history.
Allowing the applicant to list their previous roles in terms of the number of years of experience rather than the dates of that experience on a CV. (Recent research²⁶ has shown that doing this increased positive callbacks by 14.6%)
Removing newer types of qualifications/experience that have only existed recently from any essential criteria.
There’s no way I could go back and find the dates of everything I’ve done for 43 years. I said [to the employer] if you had somebody else come here, younger, they wouldn’t have to fill out a 43-year long work history. I felt that was discriminatory to be honest.
5. Build awareness and confidence
- Ensure that staff are aware of how best to reduce bias and avoid discrimination in the interview process.
- Avoid making assumptions about older workers on the basis of stereotypes.
- Recognise the importance of age-inclusivity and build a workplace culture that acknowledges the contribution of people of all ages.
Everyone involved in the recruitment process should have the awareness and confidence to be age-inclusive. Ensuring that your staff can be accommodating to all candidates, regardless of age, is critical to building a fair recruitment process.
Ensure that staff are aware of how best to reduce bias and avoid discrimination in the interview process.
As line managers are at the front line of delivering policy and creating culture, they need to be supported to deliver and manage age-friendly practices. One challenge with tackling potential bias is that acknowledging negative stereotypes can reinforce them. Instead consider that:
Training is most effective²⁷ when it includes content about the consequences of age stereotypes and offers managers strategies to combat them.
Avoid making assumptions about older workers on the basis of stereotypes
Whilst it’s impossible to completely remove unconscious bias from decision-making, you can minimise the impact of age stereotypes. Focus on:
Incorporating ‘blind’ application and shortlisting stages (removing any and all identification details from your candidates’ resumes and applications).
Recognise the importance of age-inclusivity and build a workplace culture that acknowledges the contribution of people of all ages
Being committed to recognising and changing ageist attitudes is crucial to making the recruitment process more age-inclusive. Workplaces need to have good practice demonstrated across the business, from the executive team through to HR professionals, managers and colleagues, as well as ensuring that the induction process for new employees is inclusive and supportive.
A final note
Most employers say they are committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion in their recruitment processes, but this broad commitment does not always consider age.
By taking these steps to build a more age-inclusive recruitment process, you can take advantage of all the benefits a multigenerational workforce has to offer: increase productivity and knowledge-sharing, boost your reputation as an age-inclusive workplace, mitigate the discrimination felt by older and younger jobseekers alike and ensure your organisation is prepared for an ageing workforce.
¹ Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Too much experience: Older workers’ perceptions of ageism in the recruitment process.
² Centre for Ageing Better (2018) Becoming an age-friendly employer.
³ Total sample size was 2,247 senior decision makers in organisations across England. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27 April - 22 May 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of employment by organisation size, sector, industry and region.
⁴ Centre for Ageing Better (2020) Work | State of Ageing in 2020.
⁵ OECD (2020) Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce - Living, Learning and Earning Longer. Available at: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/employment/promoting-an-age-inclusive-workforce_59752153-en;jsessionid=eRywXm7iQaraNQhWeCvOBK7h.ip-10-240-5-104
⁶ See note 3
⁷ Institute for Employment Studies and Centre for Ageing Better (2017) What do older workers value about work and why? Available at: https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-12/What-do-older-workers-value.pdf
⁸ HM Treasury (2018) Managing fiscal risks: Government response to the 2017 Fiscal risks report. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/725913/Managing_Fiscal_Risks_web.pdf
⁹ See note 3
¹⁰ Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Ads for all ages: How age-biased are job adverts in the UK, and what can we do about it?
¹¹ Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Good Recruitment for Older Workers: Understanding and improving recruitment language, imagery and messaging.
¹² Equality and Human Rights Commission (2019) Employers: what is positive action in the workplace? Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/employers-what-positive-action-workplace
¹³ Drydakis N, et al (2017) Inclusive recruitment? Hiring discrimination against older workers. In Shaping Inclusive Workplaces Through Social Dialogue. Cham: Springer.
¹⁴ Zaniboni S, et al (2019) Will you still hire me when I am over 50? The effects of implicit and explicit age stereotyping on resume evaluations. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 28(4):453-467.
¹⁵ Centre for Ageing Better (2020b) Shut Out: How employers and recruiters are overlooking the talents of over 50s workers. Available at: https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-01/Shut-out-how-employers-and-recruitersoverlooking-talents-older-workers.pdf
¹⁶ OECD (2020) Promoting an Age-Inclusive Workforce - Living, Learning and Earning Longer. Available at: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/employment/promoting-an-age-inclusive-workforce_59752153-en;jsessionid=eRywXm7iQaraNQhWeCvOBK7h.ip-10-240-5-104
¹⁷ Department for Work & Pensions (2015) Attitudes of the over 50s to Fuller Working Lives. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/394642/attitudes-over-50s-fuller-working-lives.pdf
¹⁸ Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Ads for all ages: How age-biased are job adverts in the UK, and what can we do about it?
¹⁹ Centre for Ageing Better and Timewise (2020) Flexible working for over 50s: A toolkit for employers.
²⁰ Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Ads for all ages: How age-biased are job adverts in the UK, and what can we do about it?
²¹ Department for Education (2020) Employer Skills Survey 2019: research report. Available at: assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/925744/Employer_Skills_Survey_2019_research_report.pdf
²² Montoya RM, Horton RS and Kirchner J (2008) Is actual similarity necessary for attraction? A meta-analysis of actual and perceived similarity. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 25(6): 889-922.
²³ Bohnet, I (2016) What Works: Gender Equality by Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
²⁴ Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Too much experience: Older workers’ perceptions of ageism in the recruitment process.
²⁵ Centre for Ageing Better (2021) Too much experience: Older workers’ perceptions of ageism in the recruitment process.
²⁶ The Behavioural Insights Team (2021) Facilitating return to the labour market with a novel CV format intervention. Available at: https://www.bi.team/publications/facilitating-return-to-the-labour-market-with-a-novel-cv-format-intervention/
²⁷ Kalinoski ZT, Steele-Johnson D, Peyton EJ et al (2012) A meta-analytic evaluation of diversity training outcomes. Journal of Organizational Behavior Vol 34 Issue 8 1076-1104.