“Your country needs you.”
A familiar phrase. Getting the UK’s over-50s back to work is an appeal worthy of a war cry, it seems.
The UK government and the Governor of the Bank of England have been urging newly retired over-50s to ‘do their bit.’ Those who left the office during lockdown and (according to the man in charge of Britain’s cash) “headed to the golf course” are encouraged to think carefully about what retirement means for them – and their country.
The government’s campaign may have many critics, but there is something the UK Chancellor and I agree on, and it’s this…
“This is a time when you can make an enormous contribution, perhaps in a different way, perhaps with flexible working, perhaps not quite so many days a week. You can have an enormously rich life by continuing to make a contribution to the economy. It doesn’t just have to be about going to the golf course.” Jeremy Hunt, March 2023.
A different way of retiring
I’ve been saying for years that retirees today need to view retirement differently. It’s really not like it used to be and certainly not like anything we’ve been led to believe. You don’t, in this day and age, sail off into the sunset with your carriage clock in hand and live a life of luxury and decadence. Most of us cannot. A few can, and they think they’re fortunate, but they’ve no idea what they’re up against; loss of identity, loss of purpose, and cognitive decline.
When we retire today, we have a lot more life left in us than our ancestors did. Thirty years or more. That’s a hell of a lot of time. Time which needs money. Money which, unless we’ve massively overbudgeted, we probably don’t have.
And that’s why we need to reinvent retirement so that it becomes a hybrid of work and play. Something which feeds the mind, the body, and the bank balance.
A different way of working
Forget paltry financial incentives, somewhat ‘desperate’ tugs on heart strings, or the blame thrust at the feet of early retirees. (The Governor of the Bank of England actually said that over-50s in the UK who have become economically inactive are to blame for the steepest rise in interest rates and inflation of any large, rich country.) None of those ‘stimuli’ will get people who have chosen to retire back to work – something the government knows only too well. The thing that will drive people back to the office is flexibility, and that’s what we need to concentrate on here.
Early retirees left work for a reason. They don’t want to go back to the nine to five. They want power, control, and an element of freedom. Many of them want to work, but just like new parents, they find themselves with caring responsibilities. So, we need to create employment that works around that.
Huge numbers of older workers leave employment sooner than they’d like because it all becomes too much – physically and/ or mentally. If employers firstly acknowledged this, then worked to truly understand it, and lastly provided meaningful, not token, solutions, the workplace would once again become accessible to those who want to work but can’t. Flexibility is key, and campaigners have long been calling for support so employers can change both policy and practice.
And then there’s the career ladder – a rigid structure we climb up and up until in many cases we tumble down as we age and become, in the eyes of our colleagues and employers, ‘past it.’ If we introduced more flexibility here, too, as a society, things would look and feel very different. That dastardly blight that is agism would have less of an impact. Older workers wouldn’t be made to feel they had two choices – to retire or expire. Instead, their years of experience would be welcomed, their knowledge respected. I think we should forget ladders and focus on waves – effortlessly moving us from one career path to another. Less structure, more fluidity in the jobs, roles, and careers we choose to do over our lifetimes.
A different way to play
Knitting clubs, music groups, volunteering, or the golf course. This is the picture that’s long been painted of a traditional retirement.
The harsh reality is that this is no longer enough for most of us.
I tried it – and I hated it. To say I lost my mojo would be a massive understatement.
And that’s why I think retirees today need to focus on a different type of ‘play’. Yes, retirement should be about doing all the things you love; the hobbies you barely had time for when you were working, but it should be about so much more than that. It should be about discovering who you are and what you’re made of. It should be about exploring the incredible world around you and the amazing people in it. It should be about purpose, passion, and possibilities. Things you’ll only find if you’re flexible in both body and mind and accept the view that the traditional definition of retirement is fundamentally flawed.