The rise in people working beyond traditional retirement age and among those both expecting, and wanting to work beyond a time when they are usually putting their feet up, is unprecedented. This change has been driven by increased life expectancy and better health outcomes for people as they age. It is a development which has enormous implications for working life.
With increased longevity and good health, a professional person in their 60s could well have another 15-20 years or more of productive life ahead of them. The three-stage life is dramatically becoming the multi-stage life as more and more people live to 100. While we have traditionally thought of our lives in terms of education, work and retirement, increasing longevity, due to successes in tackling the diseases of older (and even middle) age, means we can reimagine what ageing looks like.
Lifelong learning becomes critical for people to remain in the workplace longer but so too is the imperative to rethink the linear career model. Organizations which adopt programs to support re-education, foster a culture of learning and continuously reskill to reduce turnover across all age groups, will be best placed to take advantage of the ageing workforce. Providing support to workers to reinvent themselves and to develop enterprising skills, making them more entrepreneurial at work while also exposing them to new career paths, could keep them more satisfied and engaged in the workplace. It could also assist them to become more self-sufficient by establishing businesses of their own as their needs and desires change.
Flexibility is key to the multi-stage life. Just like millennials, research suggests that up to 50 percent of mature age workers prefer flexible, part-time or remote work. The reasons for this are wide-ranging. Some are crafting a ‘portfolio’ where they build time into their working lives to reinvigorate and pursue other passions, give back to the community or even try a ‘side hustle’, whilst others may have caregiving responsibilities. Whatever the reason, there has been a lack of openness to this flexibility from many employers. However, COVID-19 has forced remote working on even the most resistant organization, potentially normalizing more flexible ways of working. Research suggests, and during the current crisis, some anecdotal evidence supports the notion, that remote working increases productivity. This outcome has the potential to increase trust between employers and employees and open the way to innovative work practices that are fundamental to the multi-stage career.
As more and more people in mature-age cohorts continue to work, the demographic of the overall workforce will tilt towards the higher end of the age spectrum. Despite this significant shift, few organizations are developing specific age-diversity policies to either attract or retain this highly experienced age group. The idea that mature-age workers are winding down to retirement, will increasingly be challenged, especially by professionals who see the benefits of continued engagement with work to living active and healthy lives.
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