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.



Small business employers are missing a trick! The fools? It’s right under their noses.

Incredibly, there are 5 million businesses in the UK. Even more incredibly, 99% of them are SMEs (small or medium sized enterprises). Collectively, all the SMEs together employ many more workers than the big corporations, in fact, two thirds of all UK workers (18.5 million) are either self-employed or work for an SME. Another interesting fact you should know is that only 25% of all UK-registered business actually employ anyone. In other words, 75% of the SMEs have just one worker – the self-employed boss, salesperson, project manager, business strategist, secretary, ops manager, invoice chaser and bottle-washer – all rolled into one.

It’s not difficult to see why new business startups fail on such a spectacularly massive scale. That only one in three new businesses is alive to see its third birthday. It’s not only that starting a new business needs a brilliant new idea at the right time and at the right place. It’s also not only because starting a new business takes money and time (time also being money for the entrepreneur between salaries). I believe it is largely because, as a sole trader or a micro-business, there are simply not enough skills and experience in the business to enable it to operate to its full potential.

Big businesses have divisions. In each division they have departments. In each department they may have business units. Each business unit will have one or more managers, each with a team of multi-skilled and experienced people at his/her disposal, each with specialist job roles. Each team will have administrative, secretarial, financial, HR and other support staff at their disposal. Imagine what a micro-business could get done with that sort of human resource muscle.

Instead, small businesses spend most of their time delivering products or services to their clients. They typically don’t have enough time to do their marketing, and certainly very little time to strategise. They’re too busy achieving service delivery excellent, fire-fighting and chasing payments. And they certainly don’t have the money to build a multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled and experienced team. Or so they think.

The vast majority of small businesses grow their staff (profits permitting) in increments of permanent specialist employees. The founder’s first plus-one would typically be the sales manager or the office administrator, employed on either a full- or part-time basis. This might be followed by a personal assistant or financial controller or ops manager. Hiring is expensive and spending a minimum of £10K to £15K per annum for each part-time specialist skill quickly adds up to a large annual wage bill, made even larger by tax, National Insurance and additional overheads. How can a small business generate enough extra revenue to cover these costs, and is it sustainable, i.e. is the new team able to deliver more than the sum of its parts?

Along with technology and communications advances which make operating a small business cheaper and easier, and the recent innovations of ‘Agile’ and ‘Lean’ startup approaches, small business also need to embrace a much more flexible approach to building a dynamic impactful team capable of rapid and sustainable growth. After all, in the modern business world, the cost of human capital is the greatest single business cost. Period. Imagine if small businesses and business startups could build an effective multi-disciplinary team with all the skills and experience they need, and could do so affordably. Wouldn’t that give them the best chance of success? Wouldn’t it enable them to grow and achieve their full potential? Of course you agree, but I also hear you say that it would be nice if it rained £20 notes too.

The reality is that this is achievable. You just need to know where to look and what to look for. Let me pose some questions to you:

  • Would small businesses benefit from skilled, committed workers? Obviously.
  • Would small businesses benefit from highly experienced workers offering discounted rates? Sounds too good to be true.
  • Would small businesses benefit by only paying for these workers when, and for as long as they need them? Clearly.
  • Would small businesses benefit from hiring more self-employed, contract or freelance staff? Yes, provided bullet 1 above wasn’t jeopardised.

Well then. Here’s the answer.

Skilled, experienced, flexible, dedicated, committed and wise: the Plus50 workforce!

Demographic shifts have opened up a new population group – and an amazing opportunity for small businesses. When retirement was invented, people went straight from a career into old age. Now, as life expectancy has moved towards 90, a 10- to 15-year healthy life space has been created between the full-time career and older age. Research has indeed proven that people in this space are as productive as those in their twenties. People coming into retirement now are IT literate (many have been emailing and internetting since their 40’s, and Facebooking along with the rest of us). They’re as likely as not to be able to out-hike, out-jog, out-crosstrain, out-swim many half their age. They are also more positive, balanced, emotionally intelligent and resilient than younger workers. And typically they’re not looking for full-time careers – just to keep active, stimulated, keep their hand in, and give something back. They’re also usually available flexibly and at short notice, and equally happy to be employed, self-employed or work as a freelance contractor. It’s amazing the early-retired skills available on your doorstep – offering 30, 40 years of work experience.

Build the team of your dreams. Make your business awesome. Tap into the plus50 resource pool today. It’s common sense!