Over 50? Don’t have a job? It’s time to get off the sofa and back into harness. No more mooching about in the garden or sliding off for a midweek siesta. The post-pandemic Big Lie Down (the retirees’ version of what millennials call The Great Resignation) has gone on long enough.
In his budget speech, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, referred to the over 50s as “the most skilled experienced and productive people we have” saying “we need to remove the barriers [to them returning work]”. Get the gist? Your country needs YOU! Forget chopping back the wisteria. Dust off that CV and get thee to a recruiter.
Of course, it is not as simple as that. The majority of midlifers who left work during the pandemic are not just sitting at home scrolling through Netflix. Some have taken early retirement, but the data shows many are off sick or looking after an unwell family member. Which doesn’t rule out the possibility of them working if employers were understanding about caring responsibilities or allowed older workers “flexi time”; but the reality is most don’t.
And worse, it’s not even on their agenda.
Bruised and bemused
We hear a lot about diversity and inclusion but the reality is that age is the protected characteristic most firms forget. Our culture’s obsession with youth means hardly any companies have an ageing workforce strategy which values the institutional memory older employees have and plans the later years of their careers. Instead they get whacked.
As one of my Noon community put it at a dinner last week: “I put everything into my job for 25 years, I put it above my kids, my family, my health. My reward? I got sacked for a younger employee. Not so much as a farewell dinner. After all that loyalty I was just a number on a spreadsheet.” The other Queenagers round the table nodded. Many had had spectacularly successful careers but all had either been made redundant or been pushed out.
Many leave bruised and bemused, but after licking their wounds start a new chapter; 60 per cent of retired midlifers own their houses outright and are debt free. An Aviva survey earlier this year found two thirds of early retirees are much happier not working. As a 50-something mate put it to me the other day, “I have a fraction of the money to spend that I used to, but I have my time and my freedom and that is priceless.” He works a bit as a consultant and is on the board of a charity. He spends time with his wife and grandchildren. He is happy.
Change attitudes. And algorithms
So how can companies lure skilled workers like him back? Well the first thing they could do is change their recruiting algorithms. Lisa Unwin who runs a specialist recruitment company, which gets professionals back into their old careers after long breaks, says many of her successful candidates had already been rejected online. Often applications from oldies go into the void; it’s humiliating and dispiriting.
Rather than blaming midlifers, companies and employers need to examine their own – and our society’s – ageist attitudes. Fewer than one per cent of heads of creative at advertising agencies are over 50; older people appear in less than 12 per cent of adverts (although they control 47 per cent of spending).
Ageism is everywhere: when I told two younger guys the other day that at 50 I had set up my own digital media company, they said: “How amazing that someone of your age can do that!” Why? Everyone is digital post-pandemic. 80-year-olds regularly use Zoom. Older workers can be just as digitally savvy as anyone else.
What older workers want
Companies also need to start thinking about what older workers want. When Noon and Accenture conducted the largest survey yet of ABC1 women aged 45-60, the results showed they wanted to feel valued, create impact and control where and when they worked. Indeed these aspects were 16 times more important to them than straight “kudos” – the big office, the fancy title. Yet that is still how senior staff are rewarded.
What businesses need to understand if they are to lure midlifers back is that for many, it is not just about the money. We want to be treated as grown ups, we want autonomy, we want to do interesting work and be allowed to get on with it in our own time. We are sick and tired of office politics, sucking up to idiot bosses and people-pleasing.
We want purpose, flexibility, to make an impact and build a legacy – and we want to do that while also having time to look after our families. Many of us don’t have to work – if you want us back, try a bit of tenderness.
Noon has partnered with 55/Redefined Group who, like us, don’t just want you to be content with the idea of ageing, they want you to be happy. Their jobs board is specifically for candidates who are 50+ to connect them with new careers or continue in the same career with employers who are actively supportive of age inclusive workplaces.