Britain is continuing to work after ‘retirement’ – but employers’ attitudes to older workers must change

Most Brits over 60 now continue to work in some capacity but stereotypes about older workers are changing too slowly. Georgina Lee calls for companies to shape a new employment landscape

Above: Mark McLane, Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays, discusses how to get back to work in your 50s

When retirement was invented people didn’t survive much beyond retirement age, so it was understandable that most wanted to spend what little healthy time they had left on leisure activities and relaxing.

This was the old-style, cliff-edge or ‘true’ retirement in the purest definition of the term; an abrupt cessation of all work-related activities and the start of drawing your pension, which in those days typically went a lot further than today.

In reality, most 60- to 75-year-olds (people who are more likely to be out of the full-time work economy while also not yet old) regularly participate in some form of paid work, unpaid voluntary work, or local community or neighbourhood support.

Why we’re not retiring at 65

The evolution from the old-style retirement to the modern ‘non-retirement’ retirement is largely driven by three factors. First, the typical 65-year-old today (men and women) can expect to live another ten years-plus in good health before time and ageing catches up.

Second, as more people live longer, the less the Government has in its pension pot, which results in ever-diminishing pensions (in real terms) being paid out later and later.

Third, people yearn for purpose, structure and self-fulfilment in their lives, and this is most often provided by voluntary or paid work, or a combination of the two.

Employers’ changing attitudes to older workers

The desire, or need, for older workers to remain part of the workforce is driving some significant and important human resource trends in self-employment and flexible working. These are made possible by advances in information technology and the low cost of setting up home offices.

Employers are beginning to appreciate the value of experience, knowledge and wisdom offered by older workers.

The stereotype of the old, frail, tech-illiterate and poorly trained older worker is being replaced, even if far too slowly, by the acknowledgment that older workers offer much by way of commitment, resilience, productivity and tech skills.

After all, many were in their 40s when internet and email use began to grow rapidly in the late-1990s.

How to transition older staff to flexible working

Companies need to develop step-down training, coaching and toolkits to support an employee’s transition from full-time employment; to support the planning of a fulfilling retirement that may include flexible working, self-employment and/or small business start-up.

We need to work with employers to avoid the cliff-edge retirement phenomenon and encourage people to create network-rich, purposeful, dynamic, challenging plans for their retirement.

We must work with big organisations to explore how the human resources function needs to change in order to ensure the right skills are recruited for the right roles, without age-related prejudice and unconscious bias.

We need to explore how returnship programmes, such as those run by Pfizer and EY, can become more widespread. What is the perceived and/or real value that is driving these organisations to welcome back their retirees?

We need to make flexible working more mainstream. There is a perception that although flexible working is growing, flexible workers are perceived as less valuable to the organisation and are less committed to their careers or the employing organisation.