Age the biggest obstacle to career progression in Europe

Age working

A fifth of employees name age as their biggest obstacle, followed by favouritism, lack of opportunities with current employer, qualifications, and family needs.

Age is a particularly cited obstacle in the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK. This issue increases as workers get older, with 46 per cent of over 55s and 27 per cent of those aged 45-54 feeling this way. This situation may reflect the increasing generational diversity of the workforce, as five generations of employees will soon be working side by side. Advancing technologies and more significant age differences in the workforce are likely to be isolating older workers, who may feel outdated by a younger, tech-ready generation.

Lack of support

A third of employees feel that their company doesn’t support their career development. This figure increases with age, perhaps again reflecting the position of older workers in the workplace. While 79 per cent of 16-24-year-olds think their employer is very interested in their development, just over 60 per cent of those older than 45 feel this way.

At the same time, a third of employees say that the most important area where they would like support from HR teams is in providing training opportunities. The findings suggest that businesses and HR teams need to revisit how they support different demographics within their workforce to make sure that everyone receives the same level of support. This is particularly important when considering career progression and training, ensuring that all employees have the skills to succeed.

Some workers cited a lack of opportunities with their current employer as the biggest obstacle to career progression, particularly those in in Wales, Northern Ireland and the North West. Knowing this, it is unsurprising that nearly 15 per cent of UK workers don’t think they will stay in their current organisation for more than a year. This lack of loyalty could be a direct result of reduced career opportunities.

Annabel Jones, HR Director at ADP UK, says “If employees feel there are barriers between them and their career goals that are outside of their control, it can be disheartening. In order to have a properly engaged and committed workforce, employers must ensure all employees are treated fairly and receive the support and recognition they deserve. Similarly, organisations need to address any generational concerns felt by employees to benefit from the value that diverse age and experience levels bring to the workplace.”


Chart 1: Top factors preventing career progression







Chart 2: Age prevents career progression – by country











Chart 3: Age prevents career progression – by age








Chart 4: Employers who support career development – by age