Category Archives: Age diverse workplace

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.


  • 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.

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?

Makeup: A career issue for both men and women!

How makeup is impacting the workplace
I was facilitating a meeting in Paris last week and one delegate asked about women, makeup and career advancement. There wasn’t time to go into it in detail – but we were obviously in France where the grooming benchmark is particularly high. As I was still recovering from surgery and leading the meeting on one crutch (not the height of chic) and struggling to stay on my high heels, I possibly may not have been a convincing fashionista. In fact had I not been wearing makeup, combined with my crutch, I suspect para medics might have been put on alert.

Visual world
There is much research to suggest that basic looks, appearance and grooming lead to more rapid promotions and higher salaries. We live in a visual world where appearances matter. However, just to focus on one tiny aspect of the lookism and appearance issue, is the application of makeup that critical to career success? There is strong empirical evidence to suggest there is a connection for women.

Make up = making an effort
In fact,a recent survey, commissioned by The Aziz Corporation, reveals new information about appearance in the workplace. A survey reported in The Times also suggests that 64 per cent of directors considered women who wore make-up look more professional and 18 per cent of directors said that women who do not wear make-up “look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort”. As a career coach I would advise any woman to focus on overall professional grooming and that would include sector appropriate make-up. In a general professional sense all women are advised to wear light make up. A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetics Science in 2006 on Caucasian women has found that people judge women wearing cosmetics as higher earners with more prestigious jobs

Claire Soper an Image Consultant based in Brussels told me ” Without doubt make-up is part of your professional dress and is as important as your outfit. It must be appropriate and well applied and if you wear none, you look under dressed. A well-groomed look sends a positive message about who you, your capabilities and potential. Think about how you are perceived if you wear none? Believe it or not you could be sending signals that you are disorganized, uninterested and unable to cope and you need to be aware of this. We can control the way we look but not how people perceive us and our professional dress, the impact our image makes has a massive impact on our chances of promotion and career advancement. Know that internal career progression is based 50% on image!”

According to the Mail Online, the average British woman spends £9000 in a lifetime on makeup. Given that women are the greatest global consumer group, I’m assuming the minute they start feeling OK with their faces, bodies and general appearances whole industry sectors would simply disappear. It would seem that there are certain economic imperatives for us all to feel insecure about our appearance and therefore spend huge sums striving for improvement.

However in light of Josef Ackmerman’s CEO of Deutsche Bank’s suggestion that women would  “add colour to the boardroom“, a major faux pas, how and where do we we start overturning traditional stereotypes? Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Member of the European Party retorted pretty promptly “If Mr Ackermann wants more color in the management board, he should hang pictures on the wall.”

Claire adds “If you look capable, motivated and interested you stand a better chance of getting the promotion. It’s about releasing your potential. Many people’s careers are blocked simply because of the way they dress and women in particular, can gain authority and credibility by wearing make-up so they are perceived as somebody worth listening to.

The male view
Further research from The Aziz Corporation would indicate that men are also changing their perceptions about personal grooming. According to a study a carried out by Opinion Research, cited in the Mail Online – there is a sharp rise in male attention to makeup, with 20% admitting to wearing it to work.

William, a Senior Partner in an international law firm told me ” we live in such a “lookist” society that of course I use men’s grooming products. Men have to make sure their grooming assistance is not obvious. Women are actually lucky in this area because they can hide and enhance certain aspects of their appearance with makeup. At one time men as they got older, were deemed distinguished and women were simply “older”. Now it’s changing. If a man obviously wore make-up, it would probably be professional suicide. Most of the well-groomed women I know in their 50s, look way better than their male counterparts. An increasingly number of men in my circle have had cosmetic surgery to maintain a more youthful appearance, because they see it as a professional advantage .” Nip/tucking does indeed seem a bit drastic, when a quick dab of YSL Touche Eclat might do the trick. Guys – here’s how!

So I wondered, thinking that through, is it really better to be in a lower earning junior position, looking younger, wearing full make-up , than being a senior partner, on a great salary, looking his age? “That’s the irony” said Tom ” women are penalised for not wearing make-up and men would be penalised for doing so

So is it time to let go of our stereotypes and if women want to go to work without their “faces” and men want to head for the cosmetic counter, or will light makeup eventually be recommended for both sexes to enhance career prospects? Should any of it make a difference to the way we’re perceived in the workplace?

What do you think?

Generational divide:Changed but how different?

How great are the changes?
Much has been written about incorporating Gen Y into the workplace and although there are some forward thinking companies who have tapped into these generational norms and harnessed them commercially, most do not. If there is a generation gap, many older ones think it will go away as it did for them. These 20 somethings will become reasonable surely? Just like we did. Who would have thought that the boss in the corner office might have looked quite different in a previous life.

I actually had a “what was it like back in the day?” conversation with some Gen Y contacts recently, discussing different generational experiences. Apart from feeling really old – it was pretty interesting. One would have thought that Boomers would be perfectly placed to bridge any gap , but it would seem that we can’t or don’t. So although many of Gen Y’s early work experiences are common to ours (disappointments about routineness of work, under utilisation, frustrations about disorganisation in the workplace , struggles with being constantly judged and erratic training) the environment they are working in has changed completely.

So what is different?

Business models – were consistent over longer periods and working practices to meet those needs probably stayed in place longer. Now organisations are expected to respond to market conditions faster than ever before and with greater creativity and effectiveness. The pace of change seems much faster.

Numbers. As university enrolment has increased in most Western European countries (in the UK, 24% of the age demographic) that makes a lot of young people flailing in, or around, our job markets. In the ’70s in the UK less than 10% of the population were involved. Boomers accepted corporate culture because it was presented as a golden conveyor to opportunity and generally it was. Gen Y are contesting (even resenting) some of the basic tenets that the older generation have willingly embraced. Not only do they doubt the opportunities exist, they are angry with Boomers for depriving them of their futures, as we have seen in France with teenagers taking to the streets ( “Jeunes au boulot, vieux aux bistros” ) and violent student protests in London.

Technology means that remote working, mobile working, flexi-time are all viable options, when 35 years ago they were not. We had to pitch up at the office – there were no alternatives. A Telex machine was considered cutting edge! Gen Y are frustrated by our skill set deficits with technology and also our reluctance to trust their generation to guide us. Technology also means they struggle with the Boomer work centric notion of presenteeism. If they have nothing to do directly, that doesn’t mean that it’s OK to go out for a cigarette (Boomers could smoke in the office) take a personal call on their mobiles ( didn’t exist) or hit Facebook (ditto!). Computers were the size of an articulated lorry and social media might have meant friendly journalists. Back in the day there was always filing (paper!) to be done. We all looked super busy to avoid that. They now have to find and ask for something to do to fill every moment. Hair might grow in company time, but it can’t be cut in company time, unless they are exceptionally lucky.

Economic they were different times. The impact of television and advertising campaigns was significantly reduced, as was an access to credit. It simply wasn’t possible to run up huge debts. Loan applications carried an actuarial function and were not linked to banker’s OTEs. We didn’t do things because we had no money!

Speed and style of communication Corporate relations seemed to be more clear-cut and formal. I called my boss Mister. No one swore around women and full courtesies were maintained, making the workplace less intense I think. Today, emails or texts can be fired off in a nano second, with a circulation list of dozens. Comments can be posted on walls and tweeted. Years ago a “memo” had to be given to the typing pool and if you were very lucky it would emerge days later, with carbon copies, placed in brown internal envelopes and delivered by hand, even within the organisation. That process could take days and by that time everyone had stopped being mad.

Lack of recognition No one likes this, but especially Gen Y. This is the ” everyone a winner ” generation made to feel special by us “child-focused’ Boomer Mums and Dads, over compensating for a lack of public endorsement from our own more reticent , father-centred, parents of the previous generation. Unfortunately there are winners and losers, first and second place and then the rest. It’s tough to face the realities of a pecking order and hierarchy.

Self scheduling – struggling with work life balance. That was never really a problem back in the day that I recall. Shops are even open later now and 7 days a week to boot. If those are missed, there’s internet shopping and take – outs. We didn’t have the opportunity to be in constant contact with our peer group and our social lives seem to be lower key. Our need for external gratification and stimulation also seemed to be reduced which of course is always cheaper as well as being less time-consuming!

Each generation enters the workplace, shaped by the culture in which it lives, both immediate and wider. That is what changed perhaps more dramatically than the basic people involved. We all just responded to what’s going on around us. I once had a really impassioned inter-generational discussion with my dad about who would endure the longest – Frank Sinatra ( me..” omg.. boring.. old.”.) or the Beatles (Dad.. “scraggy haired yobos”). We all know the answer to that one!

Just because everything is different doesn’t mean anything has changed.”