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Adrian Wakeling: The value of lived experience

Monday 07 September 2015

Adrian Wakeling, Senior Policy Analyst at Acas, comments on the challenges facing older workers as well as the benefits.

Adrian Wakeling

Adrian is a Senior Policy Analyst at Acas and is part of a team responsible for informing the future strategic direction of Acas and influencing the wider debate on the value of employment relations.

Adrian Wakeling Displays a larger version of this image in a new browser window


New government figures released this week show that the number of people in the 50+ age group who have a job rose by 50,000 during the last quarter. And there are 235,000 more people aged between 50 and 64 in work than there were a year ago.

As someone in this age bracket, I must confess that there is something quite comforting about being part of the swelling ranks heading towards the latter part of our working lives. There are many challenges facing older workers - notably, growing caring responsibilities and health concerns - but there are also some benefits. We have all been around the block a few times and surely this 'lived experience' counts for something?

Brendan's recent blog about possible new approaches to tackling bullying at work - by focusing on positive behaviours - got me thinking about the kind of workplace we might expect to experience in the next ten years or so - and what we can do to influence it for the better.

An interesting article in the 'Mental Health and Social Exclusion' journal shows what a positive impact lived experience of mental health can have on changing attitudes and recognising the difference between the person who has suffered mental health problems and the person who can effectively do their job. The article is particularly enlightening as the case study it describes takes place in a NHS Foundation, where clinicians are charged with helping with other people's problems in a professional and objective way. But what about their own problems?  There is a sense that some mental health problems can never truly be integrated into working life in a positive way. The NHS trust have tried to buck this trend by setting up a network of staff with lived experience of mental ill health to change perceptions and offer practical support and insight.

The article is titled 'making use of elephants' but mental health is certainly not the only elephant likely to be lurking in the workplace of the future. For example, bullying is hardly likely to go away, with new research showing that two thirds of workers who witnessed bullying said their colleague was subjected to a sustained period of harassment with over half seeing workmates sworn at. As Brendan said, Acas will be reporting on this soon.

As the working population ages, health and wellbeing issues are bound to be increasingly important but, at the other end of the age spectrum, how can we improve the experience of young people starting work? A recent Acas video advises employers on how to make taking on a young person a positive experience for all concerned. As a CIPD article commented, the guidance should help managers avoid the situation reported in the news recently when a young intern was forced to live in a tent outside the office where they worked.

Let's hope the term 'the tent outside the room' doesn't become as widely used as the term 'elephant in the room' to reference problems we feel unable to confront in the future.

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