I recently listened to a BBC podcast by Evan Davis suggesting we need to rethink retirement. There has been significant debate around the age at which we retire; the current imbalance of demand for labour over supply has led the government to believe we need to get more people back into work.

I believe we need to fundamentally change attitudes to older workers and retirement.

Challenging perceptions

It’s interesting how age is defined in our society, this is not just an employer’s challenge, but a societal challenge. Look at birthday cards, for example, once you get to 40 and 50 the cards basically just make a joke of age. We need to change the perception that as you become older you become less relevant.

Business needs to challenge biases and preconceived ideas around age. We need to embed more inclusive attitudes into our hiring practices and the expectations that we have of senior employees.

Older workers may be an invaluable resource in terms of mentoring where you’ve got an older employee who spends time with a younger employee explaining their experience and teaching skills that they’ve built up which aren’t necessarily written down in a manual. Mentoring can absolutely work both ways, but typically older workers say how valued it makes them feel and respected for their skills, knowledge and experience.

Thinking differently

One of the podcast guests offered an example of this rethink in action. She met, in a branch of her bank, a man in his 60’s, a greeter, directing people to the appropriate facilities and services. He was very good, with a great interpersonal manner. She talked to him because he was of an age at which you might think he may be a branch manager. It seems he’d been a British Airways steward, who in his 50’s, decided he was done with constant travel but wanted to put his training to good use. He traded down to a relatively low paid role as greeter. He was excellent at it, extended his career; he liked the job, liked the interpersonal connection.

Another example quoted in the podcast from the world of education was a former head teacher who, as part of her preparation for leaving the profession, moved down the hierarchical ladder, firstly to be head of department, and finally to return to a front line teacher role. She maintains that, in both roles, she was far more effective given her previous experience.

Both examples serve to illustrate my contention we need to think differently about retirement.

All to gain

From the perspective of the employer, what is gained by rethinking retirement? Essentially, the ability to tap into skills and accumulated wisdom that might otherwise be lost. It’s a business imperative to address the skills shortage in the UK and find new routes to source talent.

It’s also important for business to consider the impact on customers. It’s estimated that by 2040 some 63p in every pound spent in the UK will be spent by someone aged over 50, a total spend worth £550 billion. Businesses need to reflect their customer base and ensure that as employers they reflect the customers they serve.

From the employee’s perspective perhaps we need to drastically rethink retirement. Why retire at all, instead transfer to other activities, some paid, some volunteering. One former school friend having had a successful career within the oil industry now hosts walking tours around London. I was recently in the States and the guy driving the hotel courtesy car told me that after a successful 20-year plus sales career with one company he had relocated and taken up this new role as chauffeur. He declared this job was more enjoyable than his last, and he had no plans to retire.

Whilst I am not in a position to provide medical evidence to support my next claim, I do honestly believe that for males the fastest way to dementia is to give up work. We require intellectual as well as social stimulation. You don’t get that by doing nothing. Think on.

Michael Moran

Michael is CEO and Founder of 10Eighty. He is passionate about helping people maximise their potential and believes everyone should have job satisfaction and a successful career. He helps organisations design jobs and career paths that maximise employee engagement. As an avid reader/commentator on the world of work and sport, he regularly draws parallels between the two. You could describe Michael as a budding author with “The Guide to Everlasting Employability” already under his belt, and technophile who’s created 2 career management apps to help people manage their careers.

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