Next time you visit your supermarket, take a look around you. Notice the number of staff clearly well past state retirement age, some very well past it.
A number of employers, not just supermarkets, now have age-positive policies, actively seeking to recruit older workers almost in preference to youth.
This is not some kind of altruistic gesture on their part. There are good business reasons for age-positive recruitment policies. Older people are in many cases really great at customer service and care, having been customers themselves for decades. They bring a lifetime’s experience and great common sense to the work they do, are happy to work flexibly and actually have lower numbers of days off sick compared with younger workers. They respond well to training and can have a second career progression becoming floor supervisors and even managers in their own right.
The older worker also benefits from physical and mental activity as well as from the income generated from their work, supplementing often barely adequate pension incomes. In many cases they report themselves as benefitting from working with younger people and from the feeling of being part of a team. If anything ever looked like a win-win situation, then surely this is it.
Not for everyone
However, experience has also shown that working in later life can have some downsides, too, and there are certain jobs probably best avoided by retirees.
One in four people aged 65 have some form of limiting disability or chronic illness, which may affect their ability to work at all. Mental health issues in later life still have a taboo feel, but are very real for many people, with the ability to cope being difficult for some as they age.
The ability to cope with stress and pressure declines markedly for many as age advances. What was once routine can become harder to cope with, so any work of a highly targeted nature may be beyond those of advancing years. Working in an outward-bound sales call centre might be one such example.
Older people also tire more easily, so a 10-12 hour day is probably out of the picture for most. Part-time work is ideal here.
Cater to broader needs
Flexibility is therefore important. Older workers may well have caring responsibilities too, either helping with grandchildren or supporting an infirm partner or parent, so they need to be able to work flexibly.
Self-employment among seniors also appears to be on the rise, although any new enterprise putting hard-earned capital at risk may be unwise in later life. Self-employment can also confer the flexibility older people often need.
They may also wish to spend time travelling, sometimes for extended periods of time, perhaps spending a large part of the summer overseas, for example, or visiting friends and relatives. They are, after all, retired after a lifetime’s work! Employers need to develop the age-friendly employment policies that will cater to these needs, and many are now doing so.
Older people who wish to work in retirement should have the opportunity to do so. Remaining economically active supplements other income and may give them the chance to save more for when they do, finally, stop work.
It is hard to feel happy about anyone ‘having’ to work as they struggle to get by on, perhaps, an inadequate state pension with little or no private pension saving built up. However, for increasing numbers, working on in retirement will be something enjoyable, helping to support a better retirement lifestyle.
Malcolm Small is executive chairman of the Retirement Income Alliance.