Fostering Intergenerational Teams and Stamping Out Ageism

Azets foster intergenerational teams and offer flexible working arrangements, taking much of the worry and pressure away from their 55-plus cohort who typically feel they may have to step down or step back when they near retirement age. We caught up with two over-55s from Azets to chat about their experience.

It goes without saying that wisdom goes both ways and we all have something to learn from each other, no matter what our age. Furthermore, we all bring something different to the table – whether that’s 15-plus years working with a set of clients or driving technology and software solutions – and all of which is essential for a thriving workplace.

While businesses have been quick to capitalise on the annual $15 trillion of spending power of people over 60 estimated by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, they have been much slower to react when it comes to what this may mean within their own workforces. If you look around, you can see many have introduced robust systems and processes for company transition and career development, but there’s a missing piece of the puzzle for many where ‘career transition’ sits, particularly for older workers.

A study 55/Redefined commissioned in partnership with ProAge (a UK charity for age diversity in the workplace), entitled ‘Shut out, forced out and overlooked’, examines the level of ageism experienced among the older workforce. We found that over-55s are undervalued in the workplace, with only 30% of employers ‘very motivated’ to recruit 55–75-year-olds; meanwhile, figures from the Department for Work and Pensions reveal more than 790,000 people aged between 50 and 64 years are actively seeking work, or are inactive but are willing or would like to work.

And while 90% of employees aged 55-65 believe they have transferable skills to move role and/or industry if the employer was prepared to offer technical training, this type of mobility is hampered with only 35% of employers prepared to offer technical training and hire over-55s into a new industry or role discipline to anything they have previously been working in.

We know from our work at 55/Redefined that significant demand exists to re-skill in new roles and industries, to foster intergenerational teams and to allow for more flexible working arrangements, but this requires investment and cultural change from employers.

For this reason, we are very proud to work alongside Azets, the UK’s largest regional accountancy and business advisory firm. With over 62 offices across the UK (and an additional 85 offices in the Nordics) they offer accounting, tax, audit, advisory and business services to a range of SMEs and their entrepreneurial owners.

The multi-award-winning firm is investing not only in the next generation of talent but also is looking to bring back experienced and retired professionals back into flexible, full- or part-time work.

Setting new standards, Azets foster intergenerational teams and offer flexible working arrangements, taking much of the worry and pressure away from their 55-plus cohort who typically feel they may have to step down or step back when they near retirement age. We caught up with two people in this age group who work at Azets to chat about their experience.

Derek Cross, 66, works in the tax team specialising in direct tax compliance

Having now worked for Azets in excess of 30 years – and in the industry for more than 40, Derek works as part of the Azets tax team in the central London office specialising in direct tax compliance including personal tax and capital gains tax and some low-level tax planning.

At the moment Derek works full time and doesn’t have any immediate plans to retire.

“I continue to work full-time and if all else stays the same, then I will continue full-time until I am 70. Thereafter I will consider my options and may well continue for a few more years but on a part-time basis. Colleagues and clients are keen that I should stay. Some of the clients I have looked after for many years including a few for over 30 years,” he explains.

“Part of the reason is pensions will not be great, so I do not see any point in being retired if I cannot afford to do the things I enjoy. I know several friends who have retired and wonder why they did. I do more at weekends and holidays than they appear to do with the whole year available.”

Another reason why Derek continues to work is because it gives him a chance to mix with younger generations, an opportunity he says he wouldn’t get elsewhere in his life.

“I find it interesting to hear the views of the younger generations on life as they do to learn of my experiences in the ‘dark ages’ – or should I say pre-2000! Age also has a benefit which younger colleagues for the most part do not have. Clients often associate age with experience and it often has a certain gravity which can make it easier to deal with occasional difficult client issues,” he says.

“With professional relationships of any description, it helps when people trust you. ‘I know you've been here for years’ a number of clients have said to me, ‘What are your plans? We don't want you to retire’ they say. Which is it's nice to hear.”

“It’s great that Azets supports the 55-plus cohort in in the workforce. A lot of people elsewhere, I think, feel like they come up against ageism and feel like they come up against the youngsters.”

Derek also adds that the differing sets of skills and offerings across the age groups all has a place in the working environment. While he learns a thing or two about technology from his younger colleagues, he says they go to him for his years of history with clients and experience with legislation.

Sharon Norman, 55, is an accountant specialising in service charge accounts

Now 55, Sharon has been working in the industry since she was 17 and has been with Azets since she was 49. While she had slight trepidations about moving firms in her late 40s, it was a challenge she enjoyed and ultimately thrived through.

Unfortunately, Sharon is not quite where she anticipated she would have been financially, so reducing her hours is not an option in the immediate future. She also feels she has a responsibility to her clients and all being well would like to continue giving them the best service she possibly can for as long as she can. Sharon revealed that she would also like to be promoted before she retires as despite one’s age, she believes you should still have goals and ambitions.

“I am and always have been a workaholic and thrive on meeting deadlines. My portfolio of approximately 100 clients is a mixture of sole traders, partnerships and small limited companies. My specialised area are service charge accounts,” Sharon explains.

“My client portfolio includes a lot of clients that are of the older generation and I have found that such clients tend to feel more at ease dealing with someone that has been in the business for several years as opposed to younger and less-experienced members of the team. That being said, I do also have several clients on my portfolio that are young and ambitious so find they value my opinion as I have had several years’ experience in practice.”

Sharon says there have been times that she doubted her future at work due to her age, however, she’s proud that she has been able to adapt to the changes and appreciate these are part of the new agile way of working.

“Ultimately, you can't take away the experience that me and all the other people here, that are 50 and over, have. We have a mix of ages and it's the future. The younger team members all respect me because they know that I’ve got that experience and they will learn from that experience. I mean, there's not enough said about experience. And so yes, you can do all the exams and learn all of the software, the new software, but ultimately, the client pays for service and that service will always carry experience,” Sharon says.

When there have been big organisational changes, Sharon said that at first some of the 55-plus team members were worried, but that the company is very supportive and has never forced people to retire which led to a greater appreciation of learning in all ways amongst all ages.

“I get great pleasure out of passing my knowledge on to youngsters because they are the future. Yes, I'm here at the moment, I must say I don't plan to retire anytime soon, and one day if I'm in a position to reduce my hours, I know that the company would probably be acceptable to that.”

What Do Azets Do to Support the 55-Plus Cohort?

One of our core values is collaboration and being inclusive is key, everything we have developed in Azets is with inclusion in mind no matter what stage of the age spectrum our people find themselves at.

“We are very proud of Azets Reach! our Global Talent Programme,” says Caroline Hutchins, Chief People Officer at Azets.

“It delivers a range of initiatives to support the development and career journeys of all our Azets employees, meeting the needs of both employees and clients today and into the future. It inspires and motivates individuals to perform at their best but importantly provides the resources to enable that. For example, we have 100’s of courses available via this portal so that personal development is specific to the individual. This also includes legislative updates, so we can help keep everyone updated with any recent changes.

“As with any professional services firm, we face resourcing challenges in peak periods, such as tax year end or summer holidays. It is not easy for us to bring in temporary workers to cover this given the complexity of the work we do. At the same time, we believe there are professionals who have retired from the sector who want to keep their hand in, but don’t want to work full-time. Or perhaps they have found themselves retiring too soon and regret that decision or life has changed for them for a number of factors which means they may need to top up their savings and income whilst doing valuable work.

“The real positive to come out of the COVID 19 pandemic is that we are now able to support entirely flexible ways of working, from any location, which wasn’t the case before. So we believe if we can create attractive, flexible roles for retirees, we can help them achieve their personal goals too and create that environment where we help each other.

“We are committed to leading when it comes to inclusivity and age diversity. We see huge value in our over 55 workforce, hence we are keen to grow it. They have been very committed to what they do within our profession for a long period of their life. Not only do they provide strong leadership, excellent client engagement and bring a wealth of experience to our organisation, but as we also develop and grow the next generation, we embrace the opportunity for reverse mentoring, enabling the exchange of skills, knowledge and understanding between our youngest and most senior advisors.”

To search roles with Azets, visit our Job board here

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