Age UK has published a report that looks at the impact and benefits to the economy and society of flexible working, titled ‘A means to many ends: older workers’ experiences of flexible working’.

The charity expresses concerns that not enough is being done to support older workers to enter, and remain in, employment and outlines recommendations for the Government, which include:

  • Implementing its proposal to extend the right to request to all employees without delay.
  • Removing the 26-week qualifying period before the right to request becomes available to new employees.
  • Setting a longer-term objective for all jobs to be flexible by default by 2020.
  • Establishing a fund to help employers meet the costs of any adjustments made through the introduction of flexible working.
  • Promoting flexible working and disseminating good practice guidance as widely as possible.

There are nearly 900,000 people in the UK currently working past the age of 64. Nearly eight million people aged 50–64 are economically active and a further 735,000 aged 50+ want to work but are economically inactive. The number of people aged 50+ who are trying to remain in paid employment is huge. With an ageing workforce, this figure will increase in the future. Age UK is concerned that not enough is being done to help and support older workers enter – and remain in – employment, and so also outline recommendations for employers, which include:

  • All jobs should be designed with flexibility in mind, and employers should adopt the flexible-by-default mindset.
  • Requests for flexible working from applicants be welcomed. This could include a statement on job adverts stating that they will be considered, and that line managers recognise the benefits and embrace flexibility.
  • Recognising that flexibility is a tool to get the most out of older workers, for example, by allowing them to manage their personal needs.
  • Working with employees to ensure that performance can be properly measured regardless of working pattern.
  • Raising the awareness of caring needs among employers, coupled with good practice guidance about how to be responsive as situations arise.
  • Examining how flexible working can interact with other services and benefits, for example, their occupational health policy or pension scheme.

Because there are increasing numbers of older workers active in the labour market, there is a greater need for flexible working. In order for older workers to meet caring responsibilities, manage health conditions or make a transition to retirement, there needs to be a change in attitudes, particularly among employers, to recognise the wider benefits of such an approach.

Age UK believes that the best way to achieve this over the longer term is to move to a situation where all jobs are ‘flexible by default’. Employers would have to show that a role could not be done on a flexible basis. Mainstreaming flexible working within the labour market is an important part of the move to extend working lives, it maintains, and coupled with other policies to support individuals to stay actively engaged in the labour market, flexible working is essential if the Government is to achieve its objectives in this increasingly significant area of policy and practice.