London & Quadrant Housing Trust, United Kingdom: changing attitudes
London & Quadrant Housing Trust is a non-profit housing organisation, which has been in operation for the past 40 years. It provides housing and community services to the most vulnerable social groups, such as low-income families, homeless people, young adults learning to live independently for the first time, people with disabilities and older people. It is the largest housing association in London, employing around 900 staff, 68% of whom are women, ranging in age from 16 to 70 years.
The organisation’s development and maintenance departments, which have found recruitment particularly difficult, recently hired many young trainees. However, the organisation also values older employees. Recruitment of development and maintenance staff has traditionally been a problem throughout London’s housing association sector, so it makes sense to try to retain older staff.
The organisation’s equal opportunities and diversity policies address the issue of age: therefore, training and development programmes, flexible work patterns and pre-retirement arrangements usually apply to older workers. A recent initiative related to health and well-being is proving to be particularly successful, especially among older employees.
The organisation maintains good relations with the trade union, which it meets monthly and with which it discusses all proposed employment initiatives. New policies are implemented only after employees have been informed and given a chance to express their views on such policies.
The original initiative
The Housing Trust’s original initiatives dealt with recruitment, training and development, health and well-being measures, flexible work-patterns and retirement arrangements. These initiatives were implemented mainly to attract more employees to the housing sector, which has traditionally had a high staff turnover; they also aimed to encourage diversity, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, etc, in the organisation.
Most of the initiatives continue unchanged. Others, such as staff training and development and benefit schemes, have since been expanded and have become more formalised. This means that some previously existing informal practices, for example mentoring, have become more standardised.
The organisation wanted to formalise its age-related policies and practices before 2006, when new legislation to enforce employment free of age discrimination is due to come into effect. London & Quadrant Housing Trust also believes that in order to change attitudes towards older people and to tackle ageism, every organisation should introduce age-management initiatives even without the stimulus of age-discrimination laws.
Most of the formalised initiatives seem to be successful in attracting and retaining older employees. It is too early to evaluate their long-term impact on objectives such as changing of attitudes. The organisation hopes that by having a diverse workforce, and by valuing older and younger staff equally, discrimination against older people will gradually be eliminated.
Good practice today
The following three age-management initiatives, recently introduced, supplement the original initiatives, which remain in place:
- Health and well-being measures: The organisation recently launched a programme called ‘V-ie life’, where all employees, particularly older ones, can receive regular health and stress-level checks. They can also receive advice, or are referred to a helpful website, to tackle common health problems such as dehydration, obesity, stress, insomnia and depression. Increased reporting of these health problems, and a lack of knowledge of how to cope with them, brought about this age-management initiative.
- Benefits schemes: In addition to the several types of awards that are still offered (for example, long-service awards, team or individual awards), the organisation has introduced an attendance award. This award gives one day’s additional holiday to employees who have 100% attendance throughout the year. To qualify for the award, an employee must have at least one year’s service and have no sickness during the previous financial year. New benefits like this aim to increase employees’ commitment to their roles in the organisation. Sickness absence levels have always been low, at around 2%.
- Changing attitudes: The organisation has had equal opportunities and diversity policies for many years. This new initiative relates to increased promotion of these policies. All employees have received booklets and newsletters with detailed information about the organisation’s equal opportunities and diversity policies. The organisation introduced this initiative to make all employees feel respected and valued, and thereby increase their commitment. Another reason is the long-term goal of changing people’s stereotypical and negative attitudes towards those traditionally perceived as vulnerable.
Management and employee representatives regularly discuss the creation and application of these initiatives, illustrating the high quality of social dialogue in the organisation.
Like the original initiatives, the newer practices take a life-course perspective, recognising that people can have a long career in the housing sector and that as they age, they will become particularly valuable to the organisation because of their improved skills, experience and strong sense of commitment.
Although they have only been recently introduced, the initiatives seem to have had positive effects already. The health and well-being programme has raised awareness of crucial health issues and most employees seem to have already adopted the programme’s recommendations. Absence rates, especially among older workers, have declined during the past year, and are attributed to the new benefit schemes.
It is too early to assess the effects of promoting the equal opportunities and diversity policies and practices to all employees. However, the organisation hopes that it will raise awareness of issues like fair recruitment, and that it will eliminate discrimination or harassment in the workplace, leading to greater appreciation of workplace diversity. The aim is to change people’s attitudes to vulnerable groups (including older people) and their ambitions and abilities.
Contact person: Sally Jacobson, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org