70 or bust? No! Bring forward workplace changes

How old will you be when you finally retire?

Why wait until 2040 to implement workplace changes?

I seem to be receiving lots of invitations to retirement parties recently. A number of my friends and associates are heading off into the sun or sunset with a variety of fabulous plans: sailing around the Mediterranean to the Baltic, travelling around the world, spending time in summer homes, learning new sports, going back to university, volunteering, spending time with their families and taking up new hobbies. Some simply wanting to potter around in their gardens.

One thing they all have in common was that they are well under the age of 65.  So in some ways it was quite a contrast to see the cover of last week’s Economist ” Pensions: 70 or Bust,” staring out at me from a news stand, suggesting by 2040 for economic reasons, the retirement age will need to be extended to age 70.

Changing retirement age
65 has been considered by many as an aspirational average retirement age and in a number of countries is considered the default age. However, many people like my friends, take steps to retire earlier and it has been quite common for people to retire at 60, or even younger. Recently, particularly since the recession, there have been calls to scrap the default retirement age to allow those who would like (or need) to work longer, to do so. I have come across many who either wish to, or have been forced to, re-enter the workplace as property values and pension pots nose-dived. But in the future individuals may actually be obliged to work those additional years before they will be entitled to any company or state benefits – if they will even exist then at all.

70 or bust
The Economist suggests in its lead issue last week that by 2040, the retirement age in Europe will have to be increased to the age of 70 years. Since 1971, the average life expectancy rate in the advanced countries has risen by 4 – 5 years, and forecasts suggest that until 2050 it will grow by additional three years. People living longer and retiring earlier is not a problem per se , but forecasted labour shortages because of declining birth rates will not allow this.

The article also suggests that this birthrate reduction means that ” in the US, there will be only 2.6 workers per pensioner in 2050, while in France, Germany and Italy – 1.9, 1.6 and 1.5 workers per pensioner, respectively. Countries are already intending to raise the retirement age: in the United States – to 67 years, in the UK – to 68 years” . However The Economist maintains that these measures don’t go far enough.

By raising the retirement age it argues that employees will receive more years at a higher income level, governments will of course profit from further tax revenue, and a later retirement should stimulate a growing economy. However if governments are requiring individuals to stay economically active longer than previously, it means that organisational and employees practises and attitudes will be obliged to accommodate this demographic shift.

Specifically:

  • Discrimination policies will need to be enforced particularly in the areas of recruitment and retraining. A 50-year-old candidate potentially will have 20 more years on the career clock.
  • Workers in jobs requiring certain physical skills and stamina will have to be reassigned to lighter roles if necessary.
  •  Older workers will require cross generational and new technological training.
  • Older employees quite often have spousal and elder care roles. Support will be required.
  •  Flexible work schedules may be required (reduced, compressed, extended work weeks, job sharing, part-time hours, unpaid vacations will all have to be options)
  • Home offices and remote working should be considered.
  •  Re-organization of work and the redesign of jobs could be desirable.
  • Health and wellness initiatives would be beneficial.

Commonalities
It also struck me that some of these proposed measures to support an aging workforce would also be useful to women, but not by 2040. But today. So if organisations are going to be required at some point to implement changes, why not pre-empt a crisis and bring those plans forward 29 years, before we’re all keeping our teeth in jars on our desks and needing ramps for our walkers. If many of those proposals were introduced earlier, they would perhaps stem the exodus of women out of the workforce at critical points in their careers, some of whom never return. Who knows, many might be tempted to have larger families – if managing a career and a modern family simply became easier for everyone.

Those who wish to work longer can do so and those who wish to retire earlier can head off in the direction of their choosing. Then perhaps then some of those gloomy pensioner support ratios might look a little healthier. Or is that too simple?

What do you think?

11 responses to “70 or bust? No! Bring forward workplace changes

  1. Hi Dorothy,

    Interesting post!

    In that my path did not lead me to have children, I did not encounter the ‘challenges’ of needing the flexible work schedule (at least for family care-taking reasons). However, as the years have passed, I am more attuned to the needs for a flexible work schedule for a plethora of reasons — as mature adults, we generally grow more appreciative and desirous of flexible, autonomous work styles where we are empowered and trusted to perform; as well as, you mention, caring for one’s aging parents and other issues that arise as we get older.

    To me, the connection you make to the older work force (as retirement ages are raised) and the need for more flexible styles of working based on the physical aptitude of an older worker are definitely worth addressing. I’d like to think that the expectations are for the older worker to take the initiative to maintain fitness rigor, while, at the same time, expect the support of their company in facilitating health and wellness initiatives.

    I’m curious if this is a future reality, and would hope that the surge of older workers would create a clamor that would entice companies to become more flex and health sensitive.

    I’ll look forward to others’ comments on this topic!

    Jacqui

    • Thanks Jacqui – society is changing and organisations are possibly not responding fast enough I believe – perhaps some individuals aren’t either. I agree that workplace wellness will become a hot topic in the next decade.

  2. Thanks for Dorothy. This is a subject very near to my heart – I shall be a very proud 65 at Christmas! I made a choice at sixty to change careers and set off for life as an independent management consultant. I have not looked back and hope to work for a number of years yet. Oh yes I’ve been very lucky. I still feel fit enough for work and I’m still finding work. I may work to 70 or I may not! But what I value is the choice! Life time may have extended but it is simply not true that all 68 year olds still have the stamina for full time work! Unfortunately we seem to have extended life but that does not necessarily mean we have extended fitness in the same proportions despite government campaigns!

    • Thanks Wendy – I think it’s about choice and planning. 30% of women leave the workforce some never to return because coping with a career and family is too hard to manage. Why wait until 2040 to accomodate an older demographic when those changes can be made now to accommodate women or even better families. Individuals like you can choose to have another career in their golden years or retire. It seems so obvious to me!

  3. Dorothy – I love this line from your post: “So if organisations are going to be required at some point to implement changes, why not pre-empt a crisis and bring those plans forward 29 years, before we’re all keeping our teeth in jars on our desks..”
    Many companies would do well to have a forward thinking talents strategist such as yourself on board who could look to the future and implement policies and practices to prepare for and help craft that future now.

    My view is that we need to revamp the way we think about work across the lifespan. In this new way there will be no retirement but rethreading of one’s life. The new threads may include aspects of work, such as serving on boards, mentoring, part-time, or doing something we’ve always wanted to try that is different from the way we spent our careers. For some it may be spending time on a yacht or a golf course.

    • Anne – Thanks for your comment. Likewise I think your phrase of ” rethreading ones’ life” is great. There are major changes going on today at all levels but also at a terrific pace. Organisations and societies need to adapt to changing needs and cultural shifts. We also need to adapt as individuals, as Jacqui suggested, to maintaining our health to support our own “workability” (my word) over a longer period.

      It’s an exciting time and one that I think is closely connected to finding a way that supports both family life and economic imperatives. It means re-assessing business models and all our pre-conceived ideas. Let’s see what changes we can make!

  4. Hi Dorothy,

    In one of the books I read recently, it was pointed out how governments in the late 1800’s/early 1900s asked actuaries to figure out at what age they should begin to offer Social Security benefits so that few could actually claim them and thereby drain the country of its money. Based on the fact that at that time, most workers were manual labourers, they figured that the majority of the population wouldn’t live until 65 and set that as the age for giving out such benefits.

    Of course, these days, the majority of the workforce no longer consists of manual labourers, but skilled labourers. Also, in that time the overall lifespan has increased by almost 20 years.

    One of the challenges most of us face in organizations to making any form of change is dealing with that mindset of ‘this is the way we’ve always done things’. However, as we all know, it’s vital for us to understand why such measures were done in the first place to see if it still applies.

    Looking at the rationale behind the 65 retirement ceiling, it becomes clear that this is one of those rules that bears reassessment in light of the changes that have happened over the last 100 years.

    • Hi Tanveer – thanks for your comment. I agree that any retirement age has always been linked to life expectancy calculations. But as we already know what needs to be done – it seems a little shortsighted not to implement those changes, sooner rather than later! The fact that women could benefit from those changes … now ..might also help pre-empt a crisis! Just a thought!

  5. Pingback: Executive search, dinosaurs and maternity leave | Dorothy Dalton

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  7. Excellent read! I’ve updated your RSS feeds to my Google account.

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