I commented recently in my blog entry - The Silver Revolution - on the strong likelihood that the national retirement age, currently 65, would be increased in the near future. Indeed it seems likely that, in the longer term, pressure will grow to remove the national retirement age altogether which would mean employers would need to justify each compulsory “retiral” irrespective of the age of the individual concerned.
Clearly both scenarios have significant implications for employers and society in general. Firstly, particularly in the current economic climate, allowing employees to continue to work for beyond 65, may well cause organisations “talent management” issues with promotion opportunities for younger employees being blocked by their older colleagues. If the retirement age was removed then the natural attrition that comes from a national retirement age would be lost.
In addition, if the effects of old age are taking their toll on an individual then, rather than being able to use the "excuse" of retiral, employers would require to put an employee aged 65 or over through a performance management or capability process in order to justify dismissal which is not likely to be in the interests of either party. It is possible that, contrary to the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the increase in national retirement age may lead to a steep increase in age discrimination claims, at least in the short term. Further, an ageing workforce is statistically more likely to have a higher level of sickness absence which may be detrimental to businesses. This is also likely to raise issues for employers as to how they manage such absent employees.
It is clear that there is no "one size fits all" response in relation to employing workers beyond 65. In an office environment in may be far easier to accommodate older workers than it would be in a heavy manual labour environment where there may be health and safety concerns. However, I realise that that is a gross simplification of the matter.
Of course the assumption that ability and competence decreases at 65 is questionable in many cases and there are obviously benefits to many employers of retaining employees with many years of experience in their industry generally and with that business specifically. Many organisations already adopt such an approach and have reaped the benefits. However, at present an employer can effectively pick and choose who they retain beyond the age of 65 in most cases whereas this is unlikely to be the case in the future.
Whatever retirement age is implemented, it is likely to require a change in mindset from many employers to appreciate the positive contribution that older workers can bring to their business.