The greying of the workforce

Every large office used to have a Lillian, someone who was the guardian of the unofficial office history. She knew why the main conference room was called the ball room, she knew why the main staircase only went up to the second floor, she remembered when there was a staff canteen in the basement and she knew the real reason we weren’t allowed to host an office Christmas party in the building. She knew all the rules and regulations although I suspect she made some of them up to suit. She was the office manager and ran the post room before emails when we had a fleet of vans to collect and deliver the internal mail to all our sub offices and establishments. She was the first to ask to stay on after retirement age, every year she would be granted a further years extension. She was a widow, she had no children, her staff were her family and she loved work. When she wasn’t at work she did voluntary work with older people!

I thought about her when I read the latest jobless figures from the Office of National Statistics which showed the number of people over 65 in the work place had risen to one million. The greying of the workforce shows more firms are willing to employ or continue to employ older people. However this trend is not reflected in the public sector where early retirements and redundancies have seen the workforce shrink a further 22,000 in the 3 months up until March.

The Lillians of this world are often regarded as the old school resisting doing thing differently not really coming to terms with league tables, performance indicators, customer engagement strategies and call centres but they were very much in tune with the public sector ethos. It’s ironic that as the private/commercial sector comes to value older employees the public sector champion of equality can’t get rid of them fast enough.  

Blair McPherson author of An Elephant in the room on implementing equality and diversity published by Russell House

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