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When I'm 54 - Guest Article by David Tetlow

A slightly tongue in cheek article highlighted a recent Norwegian study suggesting that the average person’s “Get up and Go” is in significant decline by the time they reach 54. If that’s true (and as a 64 year old I’m a bit dubious) then it roughly coincides with the start of the last quarter of what is assumed to be our working lives.  Even if it’s too general a conclusion, it does raise issues about the motivations and drives of older workers and how to help them think about the next 15 years or so of their working lives.

Twenty years ago retirement occurred by 65 at the latest and for many much earlier. In future, it’s likely to be much later. More people will have financial commitments well in to their 60’s and fewer of them will have the benefit of significant Final Salary pensions. We know most people have underfunded personal pension plans and those now coming in to their 60s will not get their state pension until 67. The social security provision is not likely to grow.

Even if 54 is not the point of no return in terms of career progression, for many individuals around that age there is the prospect of “more of the same” for the foreseeable future. For employers there is the reality of people who have to keep on working, principally for financial reasons, and probably occupying positions that younger staff would benefit from being able to fill.   We can’t keep using “restructuring” as a way of opening up progression opportunities.

The prospect of stepping sidewise or even down can be difficult, even unimaginable: you may end up reporting to someone you used to manage; lose the title of manager; be excluded from “important” meetings you used to attend; and may even take a pay cut, possibly by working part time?  But is that all bad? Fewer responsibilities and less stress is something many people may enjoy in their later career and reductions in gross pay usually have less impact once tax is take into account.   Alternatively, there may be opportunities to do something very different: work in new types of role, organisations or sectors, by making use of skills and experience acquired over time, but not currently required.  Who knows, it could be fun!

Career counselling has tended to focus on helping people to grow their early and mid careers, or to respond to redundancy.   There is also a need to help people approaching their “4th quarter” to discover alternatives to continuing as they are with just “getting to the end” as the goal. It could be combined with a financial health check.  This is the time to think what income will look like when there is no salary and start to make better provision if necessary.

It’s a delicate area, but offering all employees genuinely confidential career counselling as they come in to their 50’s could provide the insight and motivation to make new plans.  This could be a chance to reflect on their career to date, understand their motivations and skills and think about how these could be used in future, possibly in a different role or even elsewhere.

I believe it would benefit employers to provide this opportunity as a free to use or, at least, subsidised staff benefit.

From an organisation’s point of view, people may feel inclined and confident to talk about their plans if they have had the chance to reflect on their current position and options.  Even if the outcome is that someone decides to leave for another job, it it is more likely to be planned and be positive for everyone.

So, yes I’d like to provide this type of service, but is there a market?

 

David has worked in a number of senior HR positions, both permanent and interim, in the Public and Not for Profit sectors after spending 22 years at the Bank of England Printing Works (where all the money is made!)

He has leadership experience in all aspects of HR.

He spent over 7 years as Head of HR Policy, Reward and Employee Relations at the British Red Cross before ceasing full time work in August 2020. He has trained as a career counselor and worked with a number of individuals to support them in thinking about the next stages of their working lives and then through the job application process.

He has a particular interest in jobs: how to design and describe them in ways that enable organisational and personal development and support performance management, reward strategies and recruitment. He has now entered what he describes as “Schrodinger’s retirement”: maybe working, maybe not.  It just depends on who is asking and how interesting it sounds.

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