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Business owners ‘would choose older workers over millennials’

SMEs are concerned about lower productivity among younger workers

Nearly twice as many British business owners would choose to recruit an older worker than a younger candidate with exactly the same skills and experience, research suggests.

More than a third of 1,000 SME business owners (36%) said they would sooner recruit a 55-year-old, with just a fifth preferring a 24-year-old with the same CV (20%).

Issues raised by business leaders about younger employees included lower productivity, higher absence rates and a poorer grasp of the English language, according to the poll by Benenden Health.

The study, which also surveyed 1,000 employees, found that more than half (56%) of Generation Z employees (aged 16-23) felt they have been overlooked for roles due to their age compared to 47% of millennials (aged 24-38), 29% of Generation X (aged 39-54) and a third (34%) of baby boomers (aged 55-72).

The survey also found health and wellbeing packages are starting to command increasing importance for employees, with half of all respondents (50%) saying a strong health and wellbeing benefit would increase their likelihood to join or stay with a business. Generation Z employees (aged 16-23) revealed they would be willing to sacrifice a third of their salary to receive a healthcare package that fits their personal needs.

Despite this, 85% of SMEs reported that they don’t have a healthcare package in place for employees above statutory allowances, with 44% of those claiming they don’t believe it is necessary and 36% saying they don’t believe a strong health and wellbeing package is valuable in recruiting and retaining employees.

In addition, more than half of businesses (53%) revealed that they have never consulted workers on what they would value in a healthcare package, despite employees having different priorities depending on their age.

Younger workers place value on mental health support, counselling sessions and life skill lessons, whereas older generations said regular medical checks and flexible working were top of their list of potential healthcare benefits.

Helen Smith, chief commercial officer of Benenden Health, said businesses should move away from a one-size-fits-all healthcare offering and think about tailoring a plan to meet the varied needs of a modern workforce.

“Younger generations told us that mental health support is of great importance to them, but these priorities change over time. Generation X workers often have the dual commitment of looking after children and parents so flexible working is valued by them, and with employees working longer than ever, ensuring your older workers are catered for as well – through regular eyesight and hearing tests, and ergonomic offices, for example – is vital to maintaining a strong modern workforce,” she added.