How grandparental leave could become a key retention tool

Should employers be doing more to make their oldest workers feel valued? Saga certainly thinks so

This article is part of our Going Against the Grain series, which tells the stories of companies bold enough to break business norms and try out new ideas. To explore the rest of the series, head here.

The birth of a grandchild is a special moment in anyone’s life – and it’s one that employers should acknowledge, according to Saga.

The travel and insurance firm, which specialises in serving clients aged 50 and over, introduced grandparental leave as a benefit at the end of 2021. This enables any employee to take an extra week of paid holiday after the birth of a grandchild.

Saga’s chief people officer, Jane Storm, explains that the policy has been designed to “recognise the role that our older colleagues play in their families and wider society”. 

Research by Age UK indicates that 40% of grandparents over the age of 50 regularly provide babysitting services for their offspring.

“There is an added expectation on grandparents,” Storm argues. “Because of the changing shape of working families, their support is often needed and appreciated.”

She hopes that the extra time off will enable any new grandparents at the company to relieve their children of some of the burden of neonatal care. Ideally, they will use such leave soon after the birth, but they’re allowed to take it whenever they like.

Employees who have used the benefit so far have provided encouraging feedback for Storm. The first person to take the leave “was really grateful to have that opportunity to be there for her daughter and granddaughter”, she reports. “But the thing that pleased me the most was the response of our younger colleagues. They were proud that we were offering this benefit, even though it didn’t directly help them.”

Storm believes that the move will help Saga to attract and retain older workers. “Flexibility is of growing importance to people as we come out of the pandemic,” she says. “Organisations must also respond to the increase in demand for talent because of the great resignation. This is one of the things we’re doing to ensure that we’re still relevant.”

Moreover, given that most of Saga’s clients are aged over 50, she hopes that the policy will help people in the business to “better reflect the community we serve. Having more colleagues who are of a similar age means that they better understand the challenges our customers face and can be more empathetic.”

Tackling ageism in the workplace

The new benefit also aims to address a problem that affects many workplaces in the UK. One in 10 Britons aged 65-plus were still in work in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics. This proportion is expected to rise, with the state pension age increasing gradually and forecasters predicting that over-65s could make up more than a quarter of the country’s population by 2066.

Given how the nation’s workforce is ageing, Storm believes that employers will have to do more to remain “attractive and relevant” to people at different life stages. 

“People are staying in employment for longer, so the odds of their becoming a grandparent in work will shorten as time goes on. Providing flexibility for people in that age bracket will therefore become increasingly important,” she says.

Unfortunately, many older people’s experiences of work have been marred by age discrimination. While it’s not unlawful to ask an employee about their retirement plans, employers need to avoid asking questions that could be perceived as putting that individual under pressure to retire. Storm reports that several Saga employees have faced such enquiries at previous companies. This has made them “lose their confidence at best or feel discriminated against at worst”. 

A recent survey from 55/Redefined, a firm that champions age diversity at work, found that 65% of older workers believe that the employment market is closed to them. This situation simply has to change, according to Storm. 

Multigenerational teams bring together a far wider range of skills and experiences

“We live in a society that’s ageist in terms of both how people over the age of 50 feel about working and how employers view them,” she says. “This can be seen in the high numbers of people from that age group who are dropping out of the workforce. It’s important to make people feel welcomed for their contribution and not judged for their age.”

The business benefits of having a more age-diverse workforce are also clear to Storm. “Multigenerational teams bring together a far wider range of skills and experiences,” she says. “Businesses must therefore work out how they can help older employees to feel more welcome and create the conditions for them to be retained. That’s not really happening at the moment.”

Storm hopes that Saga’s initiative will encourage other employers to follow suit and also spark a broader conversation about the value of older people in the workforce. 

When it comes to introducing benefits schemes tailored to older employees, cost shouldn’t be a deciding factor, she argues. 

“For me, it’s not about the cost; it’s about the halo effect of what this benefit says about your culture and how you welcome people, regardless of their age,” Storm says. “The financial aspects are irrelevant. This is about doing the right thing.”