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Acas predicts ageing population will have far reaching impact on the workplace

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Employers should start planning now for the effects an ageing population will have on the workplace according to Acas, the employment relations service.

As more and more people live longer, thousands of workers will experience increased pressure as they juggle work with caring duties for elderly relatives. This could see an increase in requests for flexible working and part time hours to help meet eldercare as well as childcare responsibilities.

Around one in seven of the workforce are also carers and 46% of all carers who work have already changed their working arrangements in some way - figures which are likely to increase.

With the recent announcement that the default retirement age will be removed, employers will also have to tackle the performance management of older workers.

Acas makes a number of predictions in a new discussion paper, pdf icon The future of workplace relations - An Acas view [1Mb]. The paper explores the changes to the workplace over the next ten years and looks at the:

  • Changing profile of the workforce
  • Fragmentation of the employment relationship
  • Employees experience at work
  • Future challenges for trade unions in the workplace
  • The rise of rules, regulations, and individual litigation
  • New challenges in managing the workforce
  • New channels for employee voice
  • Taking conflict seriously.

John Taylor, Acas Chief Executive said:

"It's no surprise that as we see cultural changes the effects will be reflected in our workplaces. We already know that the ageing population is going to have an impact on society and employers need to start thinking now about how they can prepare for issues such as the support employees will need with eldercare responsibilities.

"Looking at the next ten years, the structures and assumptions that are often made about our interactions at work are becoming outdated and we need to reappraise traditional approaches to employment relations. There is an increasing need for employers to communicate and engage with their employees to help increase productivity and innovation.

"As one of the leading authorities on employment relations with over 30 years experience, Acas is well placed to kick off the discussion on what the future might hold."

Key points from pdf icon The future of workplace relations - An Acas view [1Mb].

Outsourcing, mergers and acquisitions

Increasing use of outsourcing and the trend for mergers and acquisitions means that there are now much more complex contractual relationships. Employees are now more likely to have more than one master and be governed by more than one set of rules. It can no longer be assumed that there will be a relationship involving only one employer. And outsourcing does not equate to total abdication of the responsibility for the employees who provide the goods or services.

Managing the workforce

Fragmentation presents challenges for management and raises a number of questions. Who does the employee have a commitment to? What aspects does the employer have legal responsibility for? How do managers cope with managing and motivating staff when the pressures on staff come from outside their organisation? Will both subcontractors and client organisations see the need to take joint responsibility for employment relations in future?

Added to the issues of contractual complexity, how will managers deal with an increasingly virtual and mobile workforce as the line between work and home becomes blurred with BlackBerry and mobile devices allowing work to spill into home life and social media allowing workers to carry on their social life in work time?

Trade unions

Fragmentation presents challenges for trade unions because as well as an overall reduction in trade union density, members are often not physically based in one place making it more difficult to organise. But unions are using social media to make their voice heard, and seeking new issues around which to organise.

Employee voice

With lower trade union representation, there is less opportunity for employees to express concerns as a group. How will employers deal with collective issues in the future, and how will the emerging different forms of representation provide adequate channels for views and concerns of the future workforce?

Managing conflict

The resolution of collective disputes is becoming ever more complex as illustrated by high profile disputes such as Grangemouth, Lindsey and Gate Gourmet.

Without formal representation of the workforce there is a danger that collective concerns will go unresolved and spill over into unofficial action or individual disputes.

The ease of e-communications brings with it many positives including a greater reach, but the emotional detachment that it offers may also exacerbate the resolution of individual disputes. Joint working, face-to-face contact and an acknowledgement that conflict is part and parcel of the employment relationship are crucial to dealing effectively with disputes.

Employment tribunals only deal with a small proportion of workplace disputes. Much damaging conflict in the workplace could be more effectively dealt with through enhanced employee voice, more joint working and the use of interventions such as mediation, one method that can be used to transform poor employment relations where high levels of individual conflict exist.

The full Acas policy discussion paper and other papers can be viewed at

Notes to Editors

About Acas

  1. Acas' aim is to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. It provides information, advice, training and a range of services working with employers and employees to prevent or resolve problems and improve performance. It is an independent statutory body governed by a Council consisting of the Acas Chair and employer, trade union and independent members.
  2. Carer statistics source - Institute for Employment Studies 2006.
  3. Acas policy papers are aimed at engaging with the public policy debate on issues impacting on employment relations. Our publications draw extensively on Acas research and the experience and knowledge of Acas front-line staff. We envisage The Future of workplace relations as the first in a series of papers looking at workplace changes and the impact this will have on employment relations. We plan to produce further papers on themes such as employment relations developments in the public sector.

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