Published: 4 Apr 2022

Three ISO standards have recently been introduced to give guidance around our ageing society. We speak to Kim Chaplain, Associate Director for Work at the Centre for Ageing Better, about how one standard in particular, ISO 25550, can help employers retain and recruit older workers.

An increasingly ageing population brings about challenges for society at large and three new ISO standards, recently published by the British Standards Institute (BSI), aim to give guidance on addressing the challenges and opportunities of people working and living for longer.  

The first of the new standards addresses the matter of people remaining longer in the workplace. Published in February, ISO 25550:2022 Ageing societies – General requirements and guidelines for an age-inclusive workforce gives guidance on how organisations can develop, implement, maintain and support an age-inclusive workforce. This includes providing opportunities for older workers to assist in creating a more balanced workplace, encouraging active participation of older workers.  

This standard could have significant implications for quality professionals, giving guidance in the retention of older members of the workforce, as well as best practice in recruiting older workers.  

Retaining older workers 

Kim Chaplain, Associate Director for Work at the UK’s Centre for Ageing Better, believes that ISO 25550:2022 has particular relevance following the pandemic.  

“We surveyed a representative sample of just under 2,000 employers through YouGov last summer to look at what attitudes were to age, post-Covid-19, and what they would consider in terms of age-friendliness. They fell into four groups,” she says. “There was a group of employers who are already doing very well, a second group who are thinking about it, and there were two groups who will be very hard to budge in terms of age-friendliness. All of the groups were more focused on race than on age, and all of the groups said that they had no plans to do anything significant on age in the next two years.  

Employers with foresight see they need to retain workers in the 50-70 age group and ISO 25550 will be a route to that.
Kim Chaplain

“When we talk to employers, they recognise that there is an issue with ageism and they do value older people, but when we talk to workers who are over 50, they see moving around the labour market as a risky business and many report ageism.  

“There was a study published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in December 2020 about the strength of a multi-generational workforce. We would never ever make an argument that an older worker is better than a younger worker, but we do make an argument, based on evidence set out in that report, that a multi-general work force is the most productive.  

“Employers need to think hard about how they maintain that balance of age in that organisation. Left to its own devices, that is not going to happen, so employers need to think about how they retain the older workers they have got and how they ensure that their recruitment practices are as broad as they possibly can be so they get older workers coming to them.”  

“Any standard like ISO 25550 makes organisations look at the fundamentals. It is about evidence, scrutinising your processes and re-organising them to get better results, and then showing the evidence of that. Employers with foresight see they need to retain workers in the 50-70 age group and ISO 25550 will be a route to that.”  

By the numbers 

One in six people in the world will be aged 65 or older by 2050, according to data from World Population Prospects: the 2019 Revision, up from one in 11 in 2019. The same source predicts that the number of people aged 80 or above will triple from 143m in 2019 to 426m in 2050. The report also noted that, in 2018, people aged over 65 outnumbered children under five for the first time in history.  

People are not only living longer, they are remaining in the workplace for longer. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that, in the UK, the rise in the state pension age from 65 to 66 between December 2018 and October 2020 saw the employment rate of 65-year-old men and women rise by 7.4% and 8.5%, respectively. This means that, in 2021, there were 25,000 more men and 30,000 more women aged 65 in employment than if the state pension age had remained at 65. The same study shows that by mid-2021, 42% of 65-year-old men and 31% of 65-year-old women were in paid work, both higher rates than at any point since the mid-1970s.   

It is just not raising the pension age that is shaking up the labour market. Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an impact as well, with people of all ages considering a better work/life balance. Chaplain believes that it is not just younger workers who are considering their options. 

“Covid-19 meant that more older people were furloughed and, when we look at the return to work, fewer older people that were furloughed came back and more have been made redundant. When we look at it as a whole, what we see is a labour market that doesn’t work particularly well for the over-50s. 

“When we talk to those people who have left the labour market in the over-50s group, the one thing that would motivate them to come back is more flexibility. We have got five standards of good practice for older workers and of those standards the thing that older workers like the most is an employer who is going to have empathy with their circumstances, offering more flexibility. 

“An ISO standard on its own isn’t going to mean anything to a job seeker or an employer, but the good practice that achieving an ISO standard will deliver would attract older workers. It demonstrates that you are an inclusive employer, who has specific arrangements for all groups.”