New Study Aims to Avert an Over-50s 'Brain Drain' for UK Organisations

Experts are looking to address a potential ‘brain drain’ of the UK’s older workers as they head towards retirement. A major new study at Nottingham Trent University will involve trying to find new ways to retain and re-motivate the over-50s in their final years of work, in a bid to prevent a loss of crucial knowledge, skills and experience.

Researchers know that some older workers start to lose enthusiasm for their job in their final years of employment and may even bring their retirement plans forward as a result. Now, as part of a three year €1.1m study, they want to develop new strategies to help organisations re-engage with their older employees – a move which it is hoped will benefit both the business and the individual.

The EU-funded project – Workage: Active Ageing Through Work Ability - is being carried out with the UK Work Organisation Network (UK WON). It is the first study of its kind and will involve working with a mix of public and private sector organisations to look at workers’ attitudes, their levels of engagement and their plans for retirement.

The research team will examine UK organisations’ current policies for retaining and engaging older workers, to see what is currently in place andwhat does and doesn’t work. From here they will look at developing a series of new approaches, or ‘interventions’ for organisations to trial, and will monitor how successful they are at helping to engage workers and ultimately delaying their intention to retire.

These approaches may vary from business to business, depending on the size, structure, culture and type of organisation. They could include strategies such as improving or amending job design, improving team-working, greater opportunities for leadership and management development, and enhanced communication and participation in organisational projects. 
It is hoped the study will significantly improve employee wellbeing, engagement and ‘work ability’ across the workforce, through smarter, more productive working. The researchers believe it could also lead to big savings for organisations in terms of not having to fund recruitment and retraining costs.  

Dr Maria Karanika-Murray, a psychologist in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Social Sciences, said: “Often when people approach retirement they start to lose their enthusiasm for the job as they only have a few years left. But these people hold vital, irreplaceable skills and knowledge. We do not want to lose these individuals and their rich knowledge and skills base – they are crucial to successful organizations”.

“We need to keep them fully engaged and keep their skills and knowledge for longer. Some companies are already doing this, but many are doing nothing at all. A lot of organisations do not understand that they can save money without losing skills and knowledge, the key to engaging and retaining older workers is about adjusting to their needs.”

Professor Peter Totterdill of UKWON, said: “How we work is the neglected part of the equation when policymakers and employers talk about retaining older workers, especially in the UK.

“If our knowledge, skills and experience are respected in our day-to-day jobs, if we are in a supportive team, if we come to work to improve the business rather than just do our functional tasks, and if we are involved in the decisions that affect us, then we will feel good about our jobs and are more likely to postpone retirement.”

At the end of the study a ‘toolkit’ will be produced and information on good practice will be collated and made available to national policymakers throughout Europe. It will also be made available to employers so they can identify and pilot the most appropriate policies and programmes to retain and re-motivate their older workers.

The project also involves TAEN - The Age and Employment Network, Nottinghamshire Employer First, Nottinghamshire Fit for Work Service, the TUC, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust, and the Royal College of Midwives, as well as experts from Kingston University, Lancaster University, and Tilburg University.

The project is funded by the European Union’s Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity – PROGRESS.

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