Celebrating the benefits of career longevity

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In the week of the UN’s International Day of Older Persons, CLARE B MARSHALL explores why workplace age-inclusivity needs to move up the priority list for all businesses and governments.

Business is well-versed in guiding and developing those on the first steps of their career ladder and aspiring professionals. Coaching, mentoring and L&D schemes have become prolific for this demographic. But can the same be said for those at the opposite end of their career looking to step back from their (traditional, full -time) roles into something more flexible?

Those who choose to extend, rather than reach a full-stop in their career?
In 2019, the ONS reported that the percentage of “older” people in Great Britain had been increasing steadily since the middle of the 20th century with 70 years of age touted as the “new 65”, the traditional age for retirement. With many over 65s in the UK opting to continue working beyond state pension age, the ONS also reported that over half did so because “they were not ready to stop work”.

More recently, a lifestyle report from wealth management company Julius Bar predicted that by 2030 over 60s will outnumber children under the age of ten, an interesting, potentially disruptive, fact for businesses shaping future resource plans.

If there is one person who is proof that a career should be determined by personal motivation, not age, it is the late Queen Elizabeth II. Applauded and recognised for long and devoted service and commitment, she remains a notable example of how life experiences, diplomacy, dedication, knowledge, resilience, adaptability and enthusiasm contribute to career longevity.

Benefits for businesses

The late Queen’s position was of course unique. But how much importance does business place on supporting employees looking to follow an ‘extended’ career path? And what are the mutual benefits for advocating this approach?

The retention of highly experienced, high performing and motivated employees is an aspiration for many organisations. Those who choose to extend their career often make strong role models. With years of technical experience behind them, they can display a quiet confidence and belief in their own abilities. Their overall life experiences sometimes lead to a strong sense of realism, pragmatism and empathy, positioning them well for mentoring others; for being a solid sounding board.

As a key component of a diverse talent pool, they are a trusted pair of hands – encouraging, nurturing and leading. These are all-important attributes when new ideas, improvement and innovation are drivers for an organisation.

The European Parliament’s definition of the circular economy – a “model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible”, considered in the context of sustainable business, could be adapted (recycled even) for skilled individuals with decades of experience, insight, learning and hands-on doing.

The drivers for career longevity

We live in an age where people are living longer and, naturally, thoughts of work and retirement go hand-in-hand. Across the globe, working longer is becoming ‘mandatory’ with changes to the retirement age being regulated. In France a key policy challenge during the recent presidential election was the need to prolong working life (thus delaying entitlement to state pension).

‘Forced’ retirement went under the global spotlight in last year’s policy paper from the OECD (The Long Game: Fiscal Outlooks to 2060 Underline Need for Structural Reform)  which explored the ongoing, evolving dynamics of reforms to raise the statutory age of retirement among its member countries.

But in recent years, other drivers have influenced the idea of career longevity.

The global pandemic triggered a rapid shift in working practices and approaches to work-life balance, arguably giving rise to greater personal reflection on career choice. In this new age of ‘quiet quitting’ alongside more formal trials of the four-day week, a more creative approach to career longevity brings opportunities for greater balance – sharing work and creating more time for life, across generations.

A significant number of new businesses have been created partly, as reported by the Centre for Entrepreneurs, as a result of the confidence and resilience demonstrated by aspiring entrepreneurs. Studies have dispelled the myth that only ‘young’ entrepreneurs could be successful, pointing to the merits of the years of ‘banked’ business acumen an older generation enjoys and which can be called on when establishing a business.

Social and business online networks offer scope for researching career and training opportunities and personal benchmarking, thereby creating opportunities for engagement and staying connected, irrespective of age.
So too, consultancy roles, trustee positions and other philanthropic endeavours, appealing to a more mature or highly specialist demographic, continue to grow.

The health benefits of staying in work later in life provide impetus for an extended career. The ability to stay active, to stay connected, to learn new skills and to have a strong sense of purpose all contribute to physical and mental wellbeing.

The drivers for career longevity are solid, the opportunities wide-ranging and the benefits multi-faceted.

Much like racial inequality, gender bias, climate change and rapid urbanisation, the need to address quality of life for older generations is urgent. This includes challenging the misconceptions around ageing and the ability to continue to work.

Awareness days, such as the UN’s International Day of Older Persons on 1 October, are pivotal. The World Economic Forum, in partnership with AARP, is also providing roadmaps, direction and guidance tools for businesses employing a multi-generational workforce.

We are fortunate to live in an era where opportunity and employment choice is readily available to many. Age-inclusive work policy is evolving, finding its rightful place in many organisations.

With the UN predicting a world population nearing 11 billion by 2100, coupled with “unprecedented ageing”, workplace age-inclusivity needs to be urgently addressed by governments before it’s too late to make a tangible impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions.

Clare B Marshall (aged 51) is the founding partner of business consultancy 2MPy, an enterprise established in 2021 following a 25+ year career in law.