The UK is getting older. Disastrous pension provision and a faltering economy, as well as personal choice, mean that many of us will not have a traditional retirement as we continue to work beyond our early 60s. All of us are more likely than ever to become carers, if not for our parents and grandparents then for our grandchildren. And whilst medical advances mean that many of us will live longer, most of us can expect to have chronic health conditions of some sort or other. But is the world of work ready to embrace this new cohort of older people with differing ambitions, health conditions and family responsibilities? If not, how can we re-design it to enable us all to continue working?
In this series of blog posts, we look at why work needs to change (Part 1), the case for and against flexible working (Part 2) and finally, how we need to re-design work (Part 3).
Part 1 – Why work needs to change?
Whilst the last 60 years has seen extraordinary changes in society, the workplace and our families, the way we work has so far failed to keep up.
60 years ago
When the people now hitting their sixties were born, the world was a very different place. The primary role of men was to be breadwinners and often women were the homemakers and carers of children and the elderly.
People were educated and trained once and then remained in one occupation or profession for the whole of their working life. At an agreed age people would be required to leave the workforce and live out retirement funded by pensions. Mortgages to buy homes were paid off by the age of retirement (which was shorter as people died earlier) and house equity could be used to further fund retirement activities.
Women have entered the workplace in unprecedented numbers with men and women increasingly sharing childcare and housework. There are more single parent households, with “nuclear families” no longer the norm. It is much more difficult for children to become financially independent particularly with the abolition of free higher education and the rise in house prices. And people are finding that not only are they caring for parents and grandparents but increasingly babysitting grandchildren too.
The idea of retraining or lifelong learning is becoming more important as more people find themselves without a “job for life”. There is also increasing recognition that people with disabilities do not want to be “looked after” but want equal independence.
People are living longer and wanting and needing to continue working later in life. From 6 April 2011, the Default Retirement Age is being phased out and as Catriona Watt of Fox lawyers explains “Employers will no longer be able to rely on retirement as a fair reason for dismissal. An employer will only be able to dismiss an individual over retirement age by reason of poor health or performance and the performance management system must apply equally to employees of all ages”.
Work is becoming more “task” focused rather than “time” focused removing the need for workers to keep regular hours. The advent of the internet and the extraordinary advances in technology mean that many of us could work remotely.
But notwithstanding these huge changes in the way we live, many of our jobs are designed in the same way as they were 60 years ago. Many jobs still have fixed working hours, with Monday to Friday 9-5 as the norm. There is usually a requirement to work in one particular place with time off limited to certain prescribed activities such as holidays or maternity leave. And very often sickness absence is limited.
So we have a disconnect between the needs and lifestyles of the workforce and the way jobs work. We consider in Part 2 how we might change the way we work in order to accommodate an increasingly older workforce.
Do you agree with us ? We would love to hear your thoughts and observations.
If you would like a complete copy of the article (with all three Parts), please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org