Working in retirement is not only increasingly necessary, it’s also good for you

Older female workers

Retirement just isn’t what it used to be. 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 commencement of the pension, which in those days typically went a lot further than today. 

The term ‘retirement’ doesn’t really have a place in modern society, largely because most early ‘retirees’ continue to work in some form or another. They may not continue to work full-time 9-to-5, but flexible, occasional, part-time work, even if only for a few hours a week, is still work. And volunteering is also a sort of work, even if it is unpaid.

The slow evolution from true, old-style retirement to the modern ‘non-retirement’ retirement is largely driven by three very important factors. Firstly, the typical 65 year-old today (both men and women) can expect to live another 10 years-plus in good health before time and ageing finally catches up. And for many, the 10 years cannot be fully occupied by golf, cruises, playing bridge, watching TV or looking after the grandkids! Secondly, pensions aren’t what they were and many more people are forced to supplement their retirement income by continuing to work. As people live longer and the proportion of the population over the age of 65 grows it becomes increasingly difficult for younger people in full-time work to pay enough taxes to maintain State pension levels. The decimation of many pension funds by the recent recession hasn’t helped either. And thirdly, people yearn for purpose, structure and self-fulfilment in their lives which, besides the occasional serious hobbyist, is most often provided by voluntary or paid work, or a combination of the two.

In a recent Trading Times survey of a thousand over-50 candidates who registered with the flexible job-matching service, the response to the question, “What is your primary motivation for seeking flexible paid work opportunities?” was supportive of this trend:

  • 43% said they enjoyed working and wanted to keep their hand in;
  • 26% said they enjoyed keeping active and being connected;
  • 15% said they felt obliged to give something back, pass on their experience or be a mentor;
  • And only 5% said their primary motivation was to earn money.

Being able to work longer is a good thing. Older workers also have one major advantage over younger workers. They have more freedom. Freedom to choose the type of work they do, when they do it, how long they do it for, and the ability to stop and/or change when they want to. More over-60s today are studying, starting new businesses, becoming self-employed and exploring how their skills may be transferred to new careers than ever before.

By taking the time to select the right role, one can continue to have all the benefits associated with working and very little of the drawbacks. Working just half a day a week can help address all of the four key elements of a successful retirement: developing new social networks; being creative and challenging the mind; ongoing learning and personal development; and having fun. Working also helps avoid the anxiety, depression and isolation that are so frequently the pitfalls for those entering retirement while looking back on the career they’re so desperate to leave without looking forward in anticipation to what their next 10 years might bring.


Opportunities for a fuller life. (in support of Trading Times deployment in Camden)

Trading Timers at work

We hear constantly about the demographic time bomb, about the babyboomers who are stealing our prosperity, and about the unsustainable cost of the older generation. But, people are now living longer, healthier and more productively than ever before. The typical 65 year-old in Britain can expect to live another 10 years in health and wellness, before approaching older age. People in their 60s are now more likely to be well qualified, have decades of work experience and have good computer skills.

We need to start thinking in terms of positives, and what this means for our society. We are not, as many would claim, living in a society full of old people. We are, in fact, living in a society where each and every one of us can expect to live longer. This has to be a good thing. So, what are the hidden benefits within a society where people in their 60s are now considered young?

Think of the wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom that builds up over a career. Can we really afford to let this fit productive resource pool go to waste? Think of the benefit to the millions of small businesses across the UK of more experienced workers who are more willing to work flexibly and part-time, and who can accelerate the development of younger workers through the transfer of their knowledge.

Virtually every sector of the UK economy is facing skills shortages, as fewer people graduate each year from academic institutions than are required by employers. More and more will the rhetoric start changing from ‘older’, ‘aged’, ‘retirement’, ‘pensioner’ to one that more accurately reflects the dynamism and potential of the experienced worker.

When retirement was first invented, people didn’t live much longer than the retirement age, and so were inclined to make the most of the time they had left in pursuit of leisure activities. Now, with an additional 10 years plus at your disposal, people need a better plan for living fuller, richer, rewarding lives. People are now more likely to incorporate a midlife career review within their plans and explore how their skills can be put to good use in the most rewarding of ways. Volunteering has long been part of retirement plans, but increasingly, people in their 60s are turning to part-time paid work, self-employment and starting small businesses as preferred ways to find the purpose, self-fulfilment and reward they aspire to.

Camden has a vibrant and rapidly growing local economy, with the second highest small business startup rate in London. 21,000 new jobs are to be created across the borough in the next 7 years. Camden has also at its disposal a resident population of experienced, knowledgeable, qualified people, many of whom are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. We should and can be doing more to raise the awareness and appreciation of this resource in the eyes of local employers.

Trading Times is a confidential online service that matches the skills and availability of people over 50 (and family carers) with the resource needs of local employers – for the purposes of paid flexible work. Trading Times won a national Design Council service innovation award and is backed by Nominet Trust and UnLtd. The service is entirely free for all candidates.

Re-thinking employment in an age of no retirement

A tectonic shift is coming. Of that you can be sure. The economic, demographic and political plates have been moving for decades now and the pressure has been building. Change is inevitable as the socio-economic forces seek to find a new equilibrium. It might take years, even decades, but the sooner we recognise it, debate it and give it credence, the better will we be able to take advantage of the enormous opportunity that now presents itself.

The demographic & societal ‘plate’:

  • Life expectancy is now approaching 90, and it won’t stop there;
  • Healthy life expectancy is also extending, so that the average 60 year old can expect a further 11 years of healthy life;
  • Plus50 workers tend to be more emotionally intelligent, resilient, and loyal than their younger counterparts, and of course come ‘pre-loaded’ with 20+ years of skills and experience;
  • Research has proven that the productivity of plus50 workers is at least as good, if not better, that their younger counterparts;
  • Over-50s are increasingly tech-savvy, many having been working in the PC, email, Internet world for 20+ years;
  • 5-year survival rates of businesses started by plus50 entrepreneurs are 2.5 times as likely to reach their 5th birthday as ones set up by younger entrepreneurs;
  • 36% of the UK population is over 50, and growing;
  • Without a shift, there will be too many people outside the working economy supported by too few people in the economy.

The economic & political ‘plate’:

  • Government simply cannot afford to pay pensions to a growing proportion of the population that is beyond the age of 60 or 65;
  • Hence, the statutory retirement age has been scrapped, so that no company can dismiss an employee simply for reaching the State Pension Age;
  • And, the State Pension Age (SPA) as been shifted to 68, with further legislation put in place to move this even further to 70 or beyond;
  • The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is currently working on a new policy (due for publication this month or next) called “Extending Working Lives” to encourage and support working up to and beyond the SPA.
  • The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) has commissioned a research piece from NIACE (the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education), to make recommendations on how adults can best access ‘Mid-life Career Review’ consultation and education services;
  • BIS is also working on extending their recent ‘Right to Request Flexible Working’ policy, that originally helped address the flexible working requirements of family carers, to all workers in all sectors across the UK;
  • And DWP is working on a handbook for employers to give to employees to help them plan for a richer, more productive retirement, to include (part-time) working;
  • There is a growing skills shortage in the small business sector that is increasingly limiting their ability to develop, grow and innovate;
  • The trend towards flexible, portfolio careers is accelerating with more people becoming self-employed and delivering services to multiple customers or employers.

The shift:

So the case is clear. There are more people over 50 than ever before. They are healthier, more skilled, better educated and more committed than ever before. Government cannot afford to pay them pensions until much later and it needs them to work longer. And, businesses need their skills. Small businesses and startups (which make up 95% of all UK businesses) have a particular advantage here as the over-50’s preference for flexible or part-time work helps them acquire the breadth of skills they need with their limited resource budget.

So why are we not seeing accelerating careers beyond 50? Why is the drop-off in employability so steep? I think it’s too easy to simply blame ageism stereotypes and discrimination. I think employers recognise and retain quality employees when they see them, regardless of age. I think it’s more a combination of the status quo not being challenged enough (why are success stories the exception and not the norm?), and also the lack of connecting mechanisms that enable employers to access this rich plus 50 resource pool.

A new debate is needed. One that is led by employers and not by Government policy makers or lobbyists. A debate that abolishes redundant and unhelpful vocabulary such as; age, old, retirement, pensioner, baby boomer, silver service. And replaces it with a new vocabulary that speaks to capability, productivity, commitment, energy and potential of this workforce. We are all the same after all, just at different stages on the experience continuum. There is no drop off, no hard stop, no point at which decades of experience turn instantly to redundancy. It’s simply continuous personal development, and something that employers should begin leveraging for competitive advantage.

I think it’s time to call a conference to host a resonant debate.

And we’re going to do just that.