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.



My left hip replacement – isn’t that for old people?


10 knee-raises every hour the physio says. The first one’s the killer. My 15 cm glue-sealed scar looks like a shark wound –  a neat one though, like he had braces as a kid. Thankfully it’s still numb. The spinal block and other in-op painkillers are keeping the wolves at bay. It’s plus 17 hours now. 17 hours with my new ceramic-and-titanium left hip.

This has been coming for 7 years. First the twinge when jogging, then the occasional shooting pain when hiking, eventually limiting walking to 20 minutes and preventing me playing with my kids. I am 45.

When I told people I needed a hip replacement they invariably replied with, “But you’re so young!”. My surgeon reassures me that there are many young people, even as young as 18, who undergo hip replacement, but a brief visit to the National Joint Registry (njr informs me that the average age of people undergoing the more than 80,000 hip replacements in the UK every year is 68.

What is young and old? There’s no clear line. Some people are young, but behave old. Some older people behave young. It’s a complex thing. Mental, physical, behavioural, attitudinal. What makes healthy people act old, and old people appear young? I feel young, but my hip’s been making me act old for years. It seems to me it’s all about how one approaches things. How one is internally self-motivated, and how this is communicated to others on the outside. Youth is more about how you go about fulfilling your potential than it is about chronology. It’s what you do, how you represent yourself, and how you’re perceived by others.

Since starting Trading Times last year, I’ve been inspired by the vitality, motivation, commitment and drive inherent within plus50 Britain (people traditionally labelled as old, or getting there). Inspired to want to change the way this enormous demographic resource is viewed, embraced and utilised. Not inspired for pity’s sake, inspired by a genuine new-found respect. We need to change the descriptive language and attitudes, as well as the role the ‘young-old’ play in our economy and society. Redundant, old, elderly, pensioner, retiree must all be replaced by some other language that occupies this new space between middle- and old-age.

43% of the UK population is over 50. By 2024 it will be 50%. People are living longer and healthier. A typical 60 year old possesses 40 years of work and adult life experience, and is still young and driven. Old age happens later. There’s so much we can do before we get there. With more than 50% of children born today expected to reach 100, let’s not shortchange ourselves and give up two-thirds of the way through. Let’s not live a life half-lived. Let’s keep pushing, creating, persevering, inventing, challenging.

So back to my hip. It might be just relief (and some traces of narcotics) talking, but it’s now day 2, and I’ve just done stairs.