An article authored by Maria Gardner, Founder of Psychology Works. Today is National Sickie. Less of an endorsement of absenteeism for work without reason, more a timely reminder that, everyone, at times needs a day off to rest, recalibrate and reset. It's not about glamorising…
It is remarkable such an important topic receives such little attention or support. Governments and economists have known about the rising age demographic since the middle of the last century. The ‘100 year life’ (first published 2016) is well known (I would guess many ABP Members have a copy on their bookshelf), yet government and organisations have done little to prepare for the shifting age demographic. In 1948, pensions were widely introduced. At the time, life expectancy (for men) was 66 and retirement age was 65! This has now risen to 79[i] Despite the extra 13 years gained, pension age has only risen by one year to compensate. It’s no wonder there is a pensions black hole of 190 billion with 2 out of 3 pensions schemes reportedly in ‘the red’[ii]
Jeremy Hunt recently issued a plea to older workers to ‘get off the golf course’[iii] and get back into work. It provoked this rant (sarcasm warning) which also hinted at some of the main barriers older workers face, much of them psychological. In this short article, we’ve honed in on two of the more significant ideas:
‘No idea what job to do next’. This is the biggest barrier reported to us by more than 6000 people over 50. [iv] After 20-30 years of a career people get bored. This demographic is motivated to learn new things but they are the age group least likely to receive career development support. Organisations don’t offer ‘jobs for life’, yet they don’t make it easy for people to develop the skills they need to sustain their own careers for longer. Larger organisations have ample opportunity to encourage internal mobility through encouraging staff to learn about roles in other departments and developing skills and networks via project work and job shadowing schemes (Unilever for example have launched their own platform.) Very few organisations make internal job moves psychologically ‘safe’. If anything, someone leaving a team creates a headache. The manager needs to recruit someone new and training them up. Its understandable internal mobility isn’t encouraged.
Answer: people need time to explore their options. Allowing employees flexibility in their work and celebrating those who take steps to advance their career in a way which keeps them working for longer is encouraged.
Every FTSE 250 company has a graduate scheme. Where are the career changer schemes?
How can it be the skills, experience and values of people as they get older is not something organisation have embraced? We hear constantly of a labour shortage[v] which just isn’t true. There are 3.6 million economically inactive people in the UK [vi] many of whom are trying to get work, but who face constant rejection from job applications. Our problem isn’t a labour shortage one – it’s a ‘how we think about, train and attract older workers problem’.
Answer: Flexibility needs to become a default work option. Not only does this meet the needs of older people, but it also meets the needs of all; a truly inclusive strategy.
There are other ideas, thoughts and suggestions most of which can be accessed in this report but there are a few more observations I’d share:
- Collect data. No organisation is the same. As psychologists, we need to understand the specific needs of the problem we are dealing with. Until you understand your 50+ work cohort you can’t understand or assess the impact of future interventions.
- Leadership not followership. The question I get asked the most is ‘what is everyone else doing’. The blueprint isn’t clear and in times of uncertainty, we have to experiment and learn.
- Beware the consultants. We’ve witnessed a large influx of people entering this market trying to sell ‘unconscious bias’ training (which systematic reviews show doesn’t work[vii]).
- Sign an age positive pledge. It costs nothing with the Centre for Ageing Better or better yet, consider conducting an age diversity audit to assess the gaps in your provision and take steps to address them (full disclosure – both are charities, we take no referral fees)
As a profession, we all need to start investing more time and effort in this issue: we all have the opportunity to lead in this space.