As the UK prepares to phase out compulsory retirement and the default retirement age (DRA) in 2011, a new study says that only 14% of UK managers consider their organisations are ready to cope with the demands of an ageing workforce.
In news that will set alarm bells ringing among the nation's HR directors and in-house lawyers, researchers predict that a third of UK workers will be aged over 50 by 2020.
And yet 43% of respondents taking part in the Managing an Ageing Workforce survey of over 1,000 managers said that they are 'not well informed' about their organisation's retirement policies and 40% have experienced age discrimination at some stage in their careers.
Most worrying, 34% of managers said there is a complete absence of board-level recognition of ageing workforce issues.
The report published by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) argues that the lack of board-level recognition means front-line managers do not receive adequate training or support for managing older workers, which is putting the future success of UK business at risk.
Dianah Worman, the CIPD's diversity adviser, said: "In difficult economic times businesses are not galvanising the talent and skills available to help them perform more competitively.
"Employers will need to keep on their toes to respond appropriately to the phasing out of the DRA next year, which will have widespread implications.
"Clearly businesses already recognise the value of older workers, but this knowledge needs to be matched with appropriate action.
"We know from this latest research that managers aren't being supported or trained appropriately in the management of older workers, for example, but it is also apparent that the needs and preferences of older workers have to be better addressed."
Petra Wilton, the CMI's director of policy and research, added that: "This latest research makes it clear that those at senior level in particular are failing to take the issue seriously and that discrimination is still too frequent. If action isn't taken, employees who are in the 50-plus age bracket will feel undervalued and will have no incentive to carry on working beyond normal retirement age. The loss of their talents and considerable experience by businesses not prepared to adapt is reckless in the extreme."
While Penny de Valk, chief executive of the Institute of Leadership & Management, said: "Employers need to view the ageing workforce as an opportunity rather than a threat.
"Older people are the largest-growing age demographic and in business terms they represent a hugely profitable market segment.
"As employees, older workers possess a wealth of skills and talents which should be harnessed and not wasted in these times of needing to get more from less."