How to Harness the “Great Unretirement”

folder_openEmployee Relations, Home Working, Leadership, Policies, Wellbeing

The coronavirus pandemic was responsible for a great many changes in the way we work.  In particular, it caused an exodus of people aged 50–70 from the workplace or self-employment, into “economic inactivity.”

The exact number was 87,000 higher in 2021 than for the same period in 2019 (between April to June, and July to September).  Although mostly made up of full-time workers in professional jobs, caring, leisure and service occupations also saw many older workers “moving to inactivity in the same period.”

Now, however, older workers are returning to the workplace.  A recent article in The Guardian reported that the number of people aged 65 or over re-entering the workforce rose by 173,000 in the first quarter of 2022. 

“This increase marks a big jump, after the pandemic put a huge dent in the number of people working in their 50s, 60s and beyond,” said Kim Chaplain, a specialist advisor for work at the Centre for Ageing Better. 

It’s such a big jump that a specific term has been coined to describe it: the Great Unretirement.

What factors have fuelled the Great Unretirement?

The rising cost of living is thought to have propelled many older people back into the workplace.

This is far from a one-off trend.  With comfortable final salary pensions now a thing of the past, people are having to find new ways to cope financially as they age.  Around one in ten people are planning to reduce their workplace pension contributions to help them meet increased living costs, with the over 55s also raiding their savings.

“Retirement is a very different concept now,” said Ian Dempsey, an independent financial adviser and pensions expert, in the above-referenced Guardian article.  “You don’t stop anymore at 65 and put your feet up… people work as long as their health permits, and only retire if they physically can’t work.”

The surprising benefits of working for longer

Working past ‘traditional’ retirement age can in fact bring many benefits, both for  employees, and the organisations they work for.

Mike Reid, founder of Goldster, a platform that helps the over 50s lead a “more active and fulfilling life,” cites advice from experts that says retiring at 66 is not the best option for everyone.  Embracing new roles and experiences can actually support healthy ageing, through “maintaining strong cognitive, emotional, and physical states…”

There are plenty of benefits for employers, too. 

A recent People Management article discusses positives that highlight older workers’ contributions to colleague mentoring, by drawing upon their broader life experiences.  Additionally, increasing the pool of potential candidates can only help to address the “challenges caused by a current skills shortage.”

But how exactly can organisations take advantage of such benefits?

Ensure fairness and equality across all ages

They could begin by reviewing their current recruitment and training policies, ensuring that any hiring decisions made are based on fully objective criteria. 

Regarding training and promotion opportunities, care should be taken to eliminate popular assumptions about older people, for example that they lack career aspiration and are not interested in progression.

Consideration should also be given to the requirements of employees at different life stages.  As the People Management article highlights, “workers who may be returning to the workplace are likely to particularly value flexibility… and may have different wellbeing and physical concerns.”

Age-inclusive employers have an opportunity to attract the best talent

Focusing on age-inclusivity could open up a wealth of opportunity for employers looking to distinguish themselves in a crowded recruitment market.

The Centre for Ageing Better recently produced a suite of evidence cards that summarise employer attitudes towards older workers, “including their thoughts on being an age-friendly employer.”

Some of the cards make for sobering reading, with facts including: “only one in six employers are very likely to introduce policies on age-inclusion in the workplace in the next 12 months.” 

But as the years roll on, and yet more workers choose to delay their retirement, organisations that focus on building and developing a multi-generational workforce are more likely to thrive.

Those organisations who start now will therefore place themselves ahead of the curve; well on their way to becoming a true employer of choice.

Our experienced team at Viridian HR would be happy to help review your current policies, and/or provide advice on harnessing the talents of a multi-generational workforce.  Contact us to find out more.

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