Working later in life – the changing employment landscape

Posted on: 17 September 2013 by 50connect editorial

The workplace: moving beyond default retirement age

Realistic retirement ageNow that the default retirement age has been phased out, we now have the choice of working for as long as we want to. And according to the UK Government’s guide to retirement age, age is something that can’t be discriminated against – although in some cases an employer can still set an age for compulsory retirement if there are clear justifications for it.

The government’s independent review into sickness absence, authored by Dame Carol Black, says that

Work is generally good for physical and mental health and well-being and can be therapeutic for people with common health problems.

Having a job often means getting to meet people on a daily basis, keeping occupied and of course earning money. And in these uncertain economic times, there are plenty of people who are likely to choose to continue in employment beyond the former retirement age of 65. Falling retirement incomes and the rising cost of living may also have an effect on the numbers of people seeking part time employment beyond age 65.

As a result, age diversity within the workplace is likely to increase for the foreseeable future, especially since the population as a whole is getting older in terms of its average age – and by 2020 it’s estimated that nearly a third of the working population will be above the age of 50 (source: Office for National Statistics).

Talking about the implications of this in terms of the workplace, Chris Jessop, Managing Director of AXA PPP Healthcare health services, said “by taking positive steps now to improve health and fitness, workers can continue to perform well into their 80s. With the number of older workers growing apace, employee health must become a priority and play its rightful part in business continuity management.”

Workplace wellbeing and later life workers

Working in later life - for those of us who choose to continue in employment – brings a host of social and economic benefits. But there are a number of considerations both for employers and later life workers themselves in terms of workplace wellbeing.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guide entitled Health and safety for older workers states that “Age is not an equivalent of personal capacity to work” – and while this is very obviously true and an important thing to highlight, as well as raise awareness of, the HSE points to various factors where there are different considerations for later life workers:

  • Sickness absence patterns differ between younger and older employees. While younger people in the workforce tend to have more instances of short term absence, older workers are more likely to be absent for a week.
  • Later life workers are more likely to be self-employed.
  • We all age differently, but, says the HSE, greater experience in older workers can compensate for changes that happen as we age.

A lot of the health advice available these days is pretty universal – things like getting the recommended amount of physical activity, eating enough fruit and vegetables, minimising intake of saturated fats, not smoking – these all apply no matter what the date on our birth certificate is. And as the workforce ages, these health messages are likely to gain in importance if we’re aiming to have as healthy and illness free a working life as possible, regardless of retirement age.

In order to recruit and retain the best staff, many employers provide employee assistance programmes as well as private medical cover – both of which can help minimise sickness absence and in doing so increase productivity and profitability. If choosing to remain with an existing employer or looking to find new employment in later life, both of these could increasingly become a decision-making factor when choosing an organisation to work for.

The only constant in life is change – and age diversity in the workplace is the start of what could be a major demographic change, and if it’s managed in the right way, will bring benefits for the workforce as a whole.

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