September 9, 2016

How can older workers keep up with the ever-changing workforce?

You go to school, you get a job and then you retire. Those are the three major stages that have defined life in developed countries for some time, according to Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, professors of London Business School and authors of a new book entitled “The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity”.

Women often had a shorter chunk of the work bit due to giving up work to have families in the past, but that has changed in recent years. And now, those three distinct stages are also changing, say Gratton and Scott.

In what way? People are living longer, they are already working longer and retirement is unlikely to be quite the same golden age that it has been in recent years. Not for the masses anyway. Increasing longevity and dwindling pensions pots and savings mean that many will not be able to retire aged 65. Or certainly not be able to retire aged 65 and live comfortably, travelling the world and enjoying a good standard of living.

UK life expectancy is at its highest level ever at the moment, according to figures from Public Health England. Currently, when employees reach 65, standard retirement age, men can expect to live another 19 years and women another 21 years. Life expectancy has continually risen – it has increased by two years almost constantly every decade for the past 200 years. If that upward trend continues at its current rate, then a child born in the UK today has more than a 50% chance of living to the grand age of 105.

All of this has repercussions for both employees and employers as it looks like life – working life in particular – is not going to be quite so clear cut in the not so distant future. People are likely to want and need to work for longer. Already one in 10 people over the age of 70 are in employment, almost double the number recorded ten years ago.

Gratton and Scott make the case that the changing demographics require a different employment landscape. They talk, along with the Resolution Foundation, for the need for a rewrite of the intergenerational contract.

For example, if people are to work into their late 70s and early 80s, will what they learned back in their early adults years still be relevant? Useful? Applicable in the workplace? Given the pace of technological change and seismic shifts in how we work and what work actually looks like over the past few years, it stands to reason that people are going to need to keep regenerating knowledge. Will employers need to offer employees opportunities to regenerate knowledge – more training, sabbaticals, education breaks….? Who will pay for those?

The workplace – be it the actual workplace or home working – is going to keep on changing and so employers need to help employees keep changing so that they stay productive and engaged.

Of course the reality is that although people can work longer, chances are that they neither want nor can work to the same intensity as young guns in the workplace. HR needs to manage this situation so that vitality and productivity levels are maintained.

How to best manage an ageing workforce is the subject of our next post: “How can organisations keep older workers engaged and productive?”.