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Best Employers for Workers Over 50

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University of Central Lancashire

Winner: 2010 AARP International Innovative Employer Award

University of Central Lancashire

Winning Year: 2010
Industry: Education
Location: Lancashire, United Kingdom
Employees: 2,800; Percentage over 50: 38.3%

Highlights of 2010 Winning Strategies

To support employees 50+, the University of Central Lancashire created the "Fresh Steps" program. "Fresh Steps" is a holistic initiative meant to give participants a look into their whole lives. The program highlights the many positive contributions older workers make through their experience and allows older workers to serve as mentors to younger employees. The direction of "Fresh Steps" is guided by feedback from older employees. Dealing with grief was one area identified as important by older workers. In response the university launched "Pause for Thought" sessions to encourage reflection, discuss issues faced by family caregivers and provide practical information on pensions.

Additional policies and practices:

Lifelong Learning and Training: A variety of personal and professional development activities are available to all staff at the University of Central Lancashire regardless of age. Several programs are targeted specifically to older workers, such as the "Fresh Steps" program, which was directly promoted to staff 50+. "Fresh Steps" is a holistic initiative designed to allow participants the opportunity to reflect on all aspects of their lives. The program takes a positive approach to aging and teaches staff how to change strategies if necessary, but also how to reward themselves for their many successes. "Fresh Steps" also encourages participants to share their experiences with the wider workforce through coaching or mentoring.

Future courses in the "Fresh Steps" program will be based on employee-identified issues. For example, one key area older workers felt was unaddressed was coping with grief and loss. As a result "Pause for Thought" sessions were launched to encourage reflection, discuss the ins and outs of pensions, and provide a caregivers' forum.

Flexible Work Arrangements: The University of Central Lancashire helps employees maintain a solid work-life balance by allowing all staff to change their working hours on a permanent or temporary basis. Employees may work full- or part-time, increase or reduce their hours as necessary, or may choose to work only several weeks of the year.

Flex-time work arrangements are also available. Almost all staff can choose their start time within a two and a half hour range. Provided staff meet their total working hours within each four-week period, they can use the flex-time to work a schedule that suits their lifestyle.

Several positions with the organization are offered on a job-share basis. Applicants may apply with a job share partner, or the university can match them with a job share partner. Existing staff may choose to transfer to a job-sharing position and the organization will work to pair them up.

The university also offers several forms of leave during major life events. Twelve months of maternity leave are offered, nine of which are paid. Career breaks of up to five years are also available, and employees can return either to their previous post or a post at the same level. Staff receive either 42 or 47 paid leave days per year.

Health Promotion and Protection: The university's Wellbeing Strategy Group is devoted entirely to promoting the health and well-being of all employees. There is a full-time, on-site, free occupational health service for staff who are feeling unwell or to prevent illness.

Specific work groups, particularly manual workers, have routine check-ups with the occupational health service to address the risks they face in their position. Any employee who utilizes a workstation is required to have regular workstation and display screen equipment assessments. The university will pay for the costs of eye tests and glasses for regular PC users.

All new staff are required to attend training on health, safety and well-being as part of their induction. Managers are given targeted training on handling absences.

A sports center is available on-site, and all staff are encouraged to utilize the facilities. Lunch-time walks are a recent promotion and the organization has created local routes and maps to encourage employees to participate.

A free, confidential counseling service is available to help staff dealing with personal and professional issues. The university has also enacted a mediation scheme to help resolve workplace issues run by staff who have been trained as mediators.

Pre-retirement courses help staff prepare for all aspects of retirement, including financial, emotional and the practical aspects of retirement.

Diversity Promotion: The University of Central Lancashire has a Single Equality Scheme, part of which includes a commitment to develop an Age Equality Plan by 2012. To facilitate this scheme, the organization conducts Equality Impact Assessments, which are designed to assess the impact of each of the organization’s policies on different staff groups, including older workers.

A process is in place to allow older workers to continue working past retirement if they wish. To date, any request to continue working past the retirement age has been approved.

A three-year diversity program is being implemented at the organization with full staff participation. All aspects of diversity are promoted through this program, including age diversity.

In a recent staff survey, 89% of employees stated that they feel the organization respects equally workers of all ages. Older workers, in particular, felt positive about recent steps the organization has taken to create a successful work-life balance.

The university also recruited volunteers to work on two diversity projects for Age Concern. Volunteers helped publish two books, one of which included stories from older members of local minority communities, and one of which centered on stories from members of the local LGBT community.

Recruitment: An age-neutral policy is a central tenet of the university's recruitment policy. No date of birth is included on the application form. Various forms of media are used to advertise job openings, so that a diverse group of applicants is reached.

When selecting new hires, the university uses objective methods to isolate the most qualified candidates. For example, instead of merely relying on interviews to determine a candidate's qualification, the university also uses psychometric tests to measure abilities.

All staff members that are involved in the recruitment process are required to attend training in fair recruitment and selection prior to beginning their work.

The university also works tirelessly to accommodate employees as circumstances change. If a worker should be unable to continue in their role because of ill health or a business re-organization, the organization will redeploy them to another position, whilst protecting pay, and provide any necessary training the new role may require.

Miscellaneous: Staff surveys show the positive impact the university's initiatives are having in the workplace. 92% of staff said the organization was a good place to work, 86% said they felt valued by the university, 90% of staff felt their manager was approachable and would be supportive in a personal crisis, and 89% of staff felt that the organization respects workers of all ages.

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