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John Pope

Woolhampton Management Services

Director

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Opinion: Working beyond retirement age

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As a 74-year-old who is still working, John Pope share his views on the issues around the raising of the state pension age, mandatory retirement rules, and the loss of talent to business.

At present, retirement age for men is 65, soon to be raised to 66. That leaves about 45 years to generate the wealth that has to pay for approximately 35 years of our youth and old age. Unless we are prepared to pay the state more, or save more, our working life will have to be extended and the age we get the state pension will have to go up by far more than one year.
 
The world of work is changing fast. Those of us who were born before computers were common can struggle to keep up. Many find it difficult to learn new ways of doing things, or at the speed which young managers do. We will have to keep learning new skills well into what used to be called old age. Not all may be capable of doing so. 
 

Losing skills and knowledge

 
When a colleague retires it can come as a shock to discover that you have also lost a special skill; for instance, when a field sales representative retires, whose knowledge and understanding of his/her personal customers and the personal relationship is stronger than the commercial one.
 
McDonalds recently said that employing staff over the age of 60 makes its restaurants more profitable. Its chief people officer in the UK is reported as saying that customer satisfaction and profitability in their restaurants is better where there are older staff. The restaurant chain allows its staff to work well past normal retirement, with the oldest employee being 83 years-old. 
 
Some skills and attitudes are more often found in mature people who have developed their own ways of dealing with people. It’s useful to have some mature staff in offices, especially those where most of the staff are young. These used to be known as ‘mother hens’ though to be gender neutral I also remember ‘office uncles’. At many levels in business you can find people, more mature, less ambitious and older, who are important in promoting stability. Why get rid of them if they still do useful work, are valuable and wish to stay?
 

Why get rid of people at a fixed retirement age?

 
Take your pick of the common reasons, all of which are basically inward looking:
  • It’s easier to have one rule for all – it avoids people making comparisons or pleading ‘ageism’ when told they have to go. It looks easier, but when you come to make an exception which you consider very justifiable in a ‘special case’, you soon find others who claim to have an even more special one.
  • We can’t afford the health and safety risk – again of doubtful validity. If you were really concerned about safety issues you would get rid of the accident prone people in their teens and twenties.
  • It doesn’t fit the pension scheme. 
Reasons which have more foundation are:
  • To make room for others to move up to take their place
  • They are too slow. Is speed the only problem? Are they more accurate or reliable? Take a balanced view.
  • To bring in people with new ideas or experience. I can understand this; no-one wants the business to stagnate but sometimes you get rid of the people who had the ideas but who were prevented from using them.
 

How can people benefit from staying past retirement?

 
Enough studies have shown that those who do not have an absorbing reason for living are more prone to illness. Many who face retirement and their change of life are concerned initially about how they will fill their time.
 
Some are good at and enjoy their work. They may gain satisfaction and company by continuing, perhaps because they need to ‘get out of the house’, or miss the intellectual challenge of their work, or because they feel they are still making a useful contribution.
 
Some believe that they would go downhill very quickly if they did not have a reason for working other than their other interests. I’m pretty sure I would. And some need the money because they have not put aside enough to live comfortably.
 
Many of those who retire and have not found an absorbing interest which occupies substantial time find inactivity depressing. Some rely on having a fixed commitment, perhaps to a regular day of voluntary work, and believe it keeps them bright and active for longer. And some bring valuable skills to such work.
 

No longer up to the job

 
Some people are forced to retire comparatively early. The Armed Forces genuinely requires fit resilient, versatile, mentally alert people since they could at any time find themselves in combat. Many who have been in the force since 18 find the change to the civilian world very tough, and many take up civilian jobs in the forces if they can, in part because they understand that military world better than any other. Perhaps retirement age should be replaced by ‘no longer up to the job’ age.
 

Do people generally prepare well enough for retirement?

 
Some do, and will have made clear plans for the years after employment. Some will have been developing other interests and be looking forward to having time for them. Some realise that they need the disciplines and responsibility of work; some do not. Some employers run valuable and effective programmes for those in the retirement zone. But too many people, at all levels, miss the routine and disciplines of employment and regret that their talents are no longer of value.
 

Flexibility

 
I have no solution to the problem, but since both staff and employers can be so diverse and have different needs, perhaps we should think in terms of a ‘window’ of retirement ages – with terms and conditions appropriate to employer and staff, due notice and backed up by guidance to the prospective pensioners. However, only large organisations are likely to be able to take on such long-term commitment.
 
 
 
John Pope has been a management consultant for over 40 years and has worked to improve the development and performance of managers and management teams at all levels for most of his career. To find out more, please visit www.johnpopeassociates.co.uk. His book, ‘Winning Consultancy Business’, was published in July and is available through his website. He can be contacted at [email protected].
 
 
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John Pope

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