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older worker blog

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Tony Watts OBE is a director of EngAGEnet, Chair South West Forum Alliance on Ageing and is the co-author of The MidLife Review.  He was previously editor of The Mature Times.

For those older people wanting or needing to delay retirement, Covid-19 may have provided a timely boost…

The current popularity of delaying retirement is a far cry from when I started writing about later life issues over 30 years ago. Then, early retirement was the vogue – “making way for the next generation” for those in professional careers, while poor health was a huge driver for many in manual jobs going “on the sick” until they could receive their pension.

The widely-held belief that older workers got in the way – the “lump of labour fallacy” - has been laid to rest. We now know that the longer we work, the more money that goes into the economy… while we can also save more for our retirements and reduce our dependency upon the State.
Life expectancy has also increased significantly, so we now spend more years drawing down our savings. One other major factor has also entered the equation: fewer young people entering the workforce because of shifting demographics. If employers want staff in the years ahead, they’ll have to attract and retain older workers – providing retraining if needed to keep their skills up to date.


The combination of those factors has been instrumental in the Government’s decision to move the goalposts on State Retirement Age (SRA) – ultimately up to 67.

But of course there are caveats. New research shows that – at 50 – we only have a decade of “healthy living” ahead. We might be living longer… but necessarily in better health. That’s why so many people – still – leave the workplace ahead of SRA. 

Women in lower paid jobs, in particular, have been hit hard by the shift in tectonic plates: on average their pension pots are significantly smaller, and they have also had to adjust rapidly to the equalisation of pension ages.

Working longer – for many of us – can be a matter of choice. Why should we give up what we enjoy? For others it’s a necessity: we simply don’t have enough put aside. The pandemic has increased these pressures: the value of people’s pension pots has been hit hard. While they have rebounded somewhat, they remain a cause for concern… and we still haven’t seen what impact Brexit might have.

Yet an estimated 800,000 people aged 50 and over who would like to be in work are not. In the way is a set of entrenched attitudes and workplace practices, including ageist recruitment policies, inflexible hours and an unwillingness to adapt the workplace for ageing bodies. 

So is it all gloom and doom? Not entirely! The pandemic has also highlighted something that I and others have campaigned about for some time: flexible working.

Traditionally, employers have judged their staff by their “presenteeism” as much as outputs. Being seen to be at work was the one sure way they could be sure you weren’t swinging the lead.


Allowing people to work from home part of their week was a privilege mostly reserved for senior staff whose commitment was assumed.

In recent months a large proportion of the nation has proven that working from home CAN be done and is likely to shift attitudes long term. And the main beneficiaries are older people who have caring responsibilities to combine with earning a living: 2.6 million have stopped work because they cannot continue to do both.

And that brings me onto what is the single best way to enable older people to continue to be economically active while still achieving the work/life balance that would benefit both them and their employer: the midlife review.

It’s a concept that has gradually been evolving for a few years now: it has Government’s approval, and big employers like Aviva have demonstrated its value at retaining the talents of older people on terms that suit both parties. In simple terms, workers from 50 onwards have an open, regular conversation with their employer on their future options: one that allows them to talk about changing roles, working from home, going part time or updating their skills.

The review should look at:

  • The individual’s finances: when can they afford to retire or phase retirement? Do they need to put aside more?

  • Their health: should they be making changes to their work or lifestyle to make the very best of their later years?

  • And their work: what would best suit both parties, allowing employers to undertake succession planning. 

If you are perhaps working for a further 10 or 20 years, mapping out the future is a sensible approach that will enable employers to hang onto that person’s skills, experience and knowledge… while the employee can remain in work on terms that allow them to give of their best.


A win-win for both parties.


Tony Watts OBE

Are you an older worker champion?

The main beneficiaries of working from home are older people, who have caring responsibilities to combine with earning a living... 

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