Firms urged to value age and experience

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The Independent Online
In an era when the world of work still offered jobs for life, it was the young who tended to suffer most from the old adage "last in, first out".

But lately this hire and fire mentality has been turned on its head as firms in both the manufacturing and service sectors seek to slash costs and reduce overheads.

The male, middle-aged, middle manager in the Allied Dunbar advertisement who inadvertently overhears he is for the chop from two colleagues in the gents is not alone. Typically, it is older employees who are being shown the door these days when the P45s are being handed out.

But today sees the launch of the Employers Forum on Age, a network of leading companies including Cadbury, British Airways and Midland Bank, co- ordinated by Age Concern, to give a public voice to the business value of attracting and retaining experienced staff, regardless of age.

"In recent years, many employers, under pressure to cut their workforces, have operated a simple policy of removing the over-fifties, taking the cost on the pension fund," notes Howard Davies, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and the Forum's chairman.

"Older employees have thus got the message that they are seen as indispensable, less valuable than younger employees. As a result, much valuable human capital has been thrown away."

Mr Davies believes there is a danger these attitudes will become entrenched to the detriment of business as the population grows older.

Employers, he says, are now beginning to realise the true cost of releasing mature staff - not only in terms of redundancy and early retirement payments, but also the loss of experience, judgement, reliability and empathy with customers.

The Forum is keen to counter what it calls some of the myths about older workers. It cites the example of high street retailer and forum member WH Smith, which estimates that a 1 per cent turnover in staff costs the company pounds 800,000.

Faced with evidence that workers in their twenties are four times more likely to leave than their older colleagues, WH Smith has concluded that recruitment and training of older workers saves it money.

One of the company's newest recruits is Hazel Gayton, a 51-year-old grandmother of three. She was made redundant three years ago when the insurance company with which she'd spent 10 years in the accounts department decided to move its office from Croydon to Tunbridge Wells.

"I didn't want to do the extra travelling," she recalled yesterday. Mrs Gayton works five days a week from 8.30am to 1.30pm with two other women, aged 21 and 36. It is an arrangement which suits her.

"I've always worked in a mixed age-group environment. I prefer it. It's certainly better than working just with youngsters."

Polly Toynbee, page 15

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