Over 50s at work are #OlderNotOver!

#OlderNotOver is a new campaign launched here to re-imagine the 50 to retirement generation as a valuable resource in the workplace.

Over 50s at work are #OlderNotOver!

The #OlderNotOver challenge

The challenge is three-fold:

  1. We need to recognise the value and potential of over 50s already in the workplace.
  2. We need to find the over 50s currently outside the workplace who want to return, re-connect them with employers and training, and relaunch their careers.
  3. We need to ensure work for over 50s is sustainable, with continuing opportunities to progress and support that suits them.

What’s the problem?

‘Old dogs’ and ‘new tricks’, the ‘silver tsunami’, wrinkly hands and mauve cardigans – the media image of ‘older’ is not favourable. Anyone over 50 gets lumped together, whatever age, in the prevailing theory that past 50 means ‘past it’. But there are 10 million over 50s currently busy holding down jobs, and the average age of the UK’s FTSE 100 Chief Executive Officers, the leaders of ‘UK plc’, is 55. All people clearly not ‘past it’.

There is a sleight of hand going on, a prestidigitation, or even, for the more excitedly-minded, a conspiracy. Because people aged 50 to 65-ish are productive, effective, knowledgeable, pretty good with IT and tend to like their work more than younger colleagues. The evidence confirms all of this, and confounds the stereotype. Check out the website here.

Gender is an issue. It is older women who struggle the most to be seen and are regarded as past their best. It is women who see their careers, and pay, falling behind those of men soon after starting out. Women who, if they have children, move to part-time or lower profile careers while they support a family. Women who pick up caring responsibilities for older parents and grandchildren too. By 50, many women have fallen far behind in their careers.

Other inequalities impact the 50 to retirement generation too – ethnicity, sexual orientation, health issues and disabilities. But the specific impact in the workplace is under-explored. More research is needed, especially as worrying evidence of multiple discrimination already exists, for example the impact of age, gender and ethnicity on access to in-work training (see here).

These are the problems. There are good reasons to fix them.

We need more workers

Demand for labour will in future no longer be met in full by new young people joining the labour market. In 2014 it was forecast that in the next 10 years there would be 13.5 million job vacancies but only 7 million school and college leavers to fill them. To this we must add the impact of Brexit on immigration as a source of additional labour, a factor already in play. The benefit of keeping people in work for longer to meet the anticipated labour supply shortfall is clear.

While there are 10 million over 50s in work, there are also some 3 million 50-64s not currently in work, one third men and two thirds women. 0.3 million are unemployed and actively looking for a job. The rest are classified as ‘economically inactive’, that is, not in work but not actively looking for work. Around a third see themselves as retired. Just under a third are not working for health reasons. A sixth have caring or other home responsibilities, most of whom are women. A fifth, 0.6 million, say they would like to work if they could find a job that suited them.

Over 50s are good at their jobs

As we’ve already said, the 50 to retirement generation are productive, effective, knowledgeable, pretty good with IT and tend to like their work more than younger colleagues. There is good evidence for all of this. A German report suggests that our 50s may actually be our most productive years at work. UK data shows that 90% of 55-64 year olds are internet users and another German paper shows they use IT at work to increase productivity. The New Middle Age website provides detail on these findings here and plenty of other examples of the effectiveness of the 50 to retirement generation at work.

The trouble is, people who are in this age group tend to keep quiet about it. So it’s important news when the likes of American “advertising executive turned multi-hyphenate entrepreneur” Cindy Gallop step up, telling MM Lafleur: “I tell everybody my age, 57, as often as possible. I consider myself a proudly visible member of the most invisible segment of our society, which is older women.” (See full article here.) If you don’t already follow Cindy Gallop on Twitter @cindygallop, start now!

We need more successful 50+ role models to admit their age and claim their success for a maligned generation – women, men, all sexual orientations, ethnicities and abilities. Over 50s need to step up and speak out like Cindy Gallop.

Over 50s want to work

Recent years have seen unprecedented growth in 50+ employment. There are now some 10 million 50-64 year olds working in the UK. To this we can add people working past retirement age and a new trend of ‘unretirement’ – returning to work after retiring.

There is a problem here and work needs to ‘work’ for people, over 50 or not. For those who have retired from higher-skilled jobs, work in retirement may be engaging and enjoyable. But negative impacts are beginning to be observed when people feel compelled for financial reasons to continue in low quality work (report here). So the picture is complex and we must be careful. Job quality and suitability, plus scope for retraining and switching to more suitable jobs, are essential considerations when designing good work for older workers.

So what makes good work?

Flexibility and job design

Flexibility is high on the list. An excellent programme is being pioneered by Timewise, with businesses such as John Lewis, designing high quality flexible roles across the company and, importantly, opening up these opportunities to senior staff who have found flexibility hard to access. This is important capacity building, providing flexible opportunities at all levels in the firm, including for new staff. Effective job design wins results, but a vital addition here is increased trust as senior managers are freed to work with colleagues to find rostering solutions that work for the management team as a whole.

Being trusted

Trust, and the ability to exercise more control over your job, is generally a high priority for the over 50s. This is true both for those already at work and those considering a return to work.

Room to grow

Continued training and promotion prospects are vital too. If employers want to attract and retain older workers, they cannot avoid investing in their futures – and there is still plenty of time for a return on the investment as retirement ages are rising.

Ways to return

For those outside the workplace, the initial challenge is to find a job at all. Recruitment bias in favour of younger candidates – see here for shocking evidence – inflexible digital recruiting platforms, and perceptions of lost and missing skills are hard barriers to overcome.

Excellent work is being done to help women back into work after having children via returner programmes, as offered by sector experts such as Women Returners. And current government policy seeks to expand these returner programmes specifically for older candidates.

Other options include later life apprenticeships, appropriate for those who wish to retrain for a new career, internships, programmes to support entrepreneurship, and volunteering to gain skills and a route to paid employment.

Signs of success

Success is being seen. There was news last week of a 53 year old woman who successfully returned to a senior project management role after a 5 year break via a Women Returners programme. But such stories are the exception rather than the rule. We need much more attention given to really opening up these excellent opportunities to older workers specifically, building secure and sustainable pathways back to good work.

Time for action!

The #OlderNotOver challenge is what New Middle Age is all about and is the challenge we make to you. People over 50 may be older, but in the word of work they are certainly not over. Now is the time for action. Let’s make some noise! Use the hashtag.

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