Despite nearly nine in ten (86 per cent) SMEs recognising the valuable contribution older workers make to the business, 60 per cent admitted they had never recruited a mature worker.
These results follow the abolishment of the default retirement age in 2011 and yet, employees over the age of 65 represent just 5 per cent the UK’s SME workforce.
The CIPD said smaller companies were not going far enough to ensure they had the same access as larger businesses, to skilled and diverse people of all ages.
The report — Age diversity in SMEs: reaping the benefits — was produced in partnership with the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives, and surveyed 578 senior decision makers in SMEs across the UK.
It revealed that many smaller businesses recognise the benefits of having an age diverse workforce, with improved knowledge sharing voted top advantage (56 per cent). Better problem solving (34 per cent) and enhanced customer service (21 per cent) followed closely behind.
However, three main barriers to diversity still remain for many SMEs. Age stereotyping was a concern for 18 per cent of senior managers surveyed, followed by a lack of shared interests at 16 per cent and perceived misunderstandings, 14 per cent.
Similarly when it comes to employing more mature workers, almost half of SMEs believed that young managers would struggle to manage them.
The CIPD said when it came to acquiring talent, employers should monitor the average age profile of its workforce, and to focus more attention on career guidance, apprenticeships and internships — factors that affect both younger and older people alike when finding employment. Existing employees would also need greater support with some of the more difficult decisions later on in their careers.
While a third of employers surveyed for the report offered mature workers no support for the extension of working life whatsoever, 34 per cent offered flexible working options, 25 per cent employ a flexible retirement policy and one 22 per cent offer homeworking. A very small percentage of senior managers said their organisation offered health and well-being provisions.
“It’s good to see that small businesses, just like their large business peers, clearly see the benefits of an age diverse workforce,” said Dianah Worman, public policy advisor at CIPD. But, she warned, “on the whole, we found that small businesses have a lot more to do if they are to tap into the full range of benefits an age diverse workforce can bring.”
“Employers are currently missing a trick by not offering flexible working to all employees and by not adapting to the changing needs of a changing workforce. Healthcare, provision for employees with caring responsibilities — these are just some of the many things SMEs need to be thinking about now to prepare for the future.
“Failure to do so could mean they miss out on the full range of talent available, putting their business at a serious competitive disadvantage,” she said.