The House of Lords – 16 March 2017 – Changing the way that Britain transitions into later life
On a bright, cold Thursday morning, Lord Wei of Shoreditch hosted a breakfast of coffee and croissants in the Palace of Westminster’s Great Hall. The event brought together over 40 HR Directors from some of the UK’s leading organisations whom collectively represented over one million employees in the UK. They were there to join in the conversation of how Britain’s employers can help change the way people transition into later life.
Starting with a seminal research report ‘Next Steps: Life transitions and retirement the 21st century’, written by Dr. Alison Hume and supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lord Wei highlighted the impending challenges facing the ageing population:
- living longer
- seeking to live out fulfilled, active and meaningful lives
- possible pressure on state provision
- decline of skills in the workplace
- real personal struggles facing individuals as they transition into later life
- individuals often ill-informed and equipped to the meet challenges ahead.
Lord Wei reflected on how the National Citizens Service has successfully scaled up and offered support to young people making the transition from education into employment and the need at the other end of the age spectrum to prepare those at the end of their working life. When asked, individuals feel woefully ill informed – either scared of the impending financial pressures or conversely liberated in the expectation of a golden sunset; in both cases “sleep walking” towards the edge of the cliff! A metaphor used by several speakers.
Rachael Saunders, Age at Work Director at Business in the Community (BITC), and the Government’s Business Champion for Older Workers, gave a no holds barred overview of the numbers involved and the challenges. One fifth of the UK population is over 65, a number which has grown by over half in the last 40 years and is set to increase, such that by 2030 half of all adults will be over 50. However, employers and perhaps the wider society in general, is not prepared for this societal shift. 47% of people age 50 plus and unemployed have been out of work for 12 months or more; the inference being that skills and experience are being neglected and ‘yes’ it is just possible that conscious or unconscious bias is creeping into the way recruitment is being undertaken.
The call for employers is to respond now, to take a fresh and close look at how to approach retention, (re)training and recruitment. Without a radical re-think, by 2022 we will see a 7.5 million skills gap in the UK economy, with vacancies predicted to be 12.5 million. With older people leaving the workforce and just 7 million young people entering the job market, there is a predicted further 2 million new vacancies.
What does this re-think look like “Where do we begin?”.
Employers need to:
- listen to their older workers – understand and take note of their hopes, aspirations and their experience
- review the data – are there measures in place to retain, retrain or recruit older workers?
- begin collaborating for change, working with BITC, exchanging information and knowledge across and between organisations.
Ian Harnett, Executive Director Global Purchasing and HR for Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), was the next speaker. With a UK workforce of 30% currently over 50, Ian gave an impassioned plea to value those whose ‘rugged good looks and resilience had been borne out of years of experience and adaption to different environments’. He was using the example of the Land Rover Defender, an old dependable retired in February 2016 after 68 years’ service. In drawing on this example, Ian stressed that investment into the model continued until the last moment of production. Can the same be said about our employees? Are we building in premature obsolescence by failing to put the right investment in place now?
JLR rightly pride themselves in how they have invested into their workforce to motivate and maintain productivity. Through age friendly policies and adherence to the organisational values, they help people to move on in a way that benefits not only JLR but the local community by a strong emphasis on volunteering, ‘giving something back’, serving practically in local communities.
Ian was followed by David Birtwistle, one of JLR’s HR director’s who spoke about practical steps they had taken to support staff and, in particular, the pioneering work JLR piloted with the Shaftesbury Partnership and subsequently the Envisage Initiative. Delivering weekend workshops that not only addressed the nuts and bolts associated with planning for later life, (pensions, wills etc.) but also the deeply human challenges around topics such as personal relationships and keeping active for good health, both physical and mental. David highlighted three aspects of the Envisage workshops:
- the benefit of having the employee’s partner or a good friend accompanying them on the workshop and the opportunity to share experiences and learning
- the richness of the experience where attendees were drawn from a range of employers
- the importance of getting staff to attend a workshop well in advance of retirement, encouraging those age 55 plus to attend to start the planning and realisation process early to avoid that ‘cliff edge’.
Peter Holt, CEO of Envisage, was the concluding speaker. Peter spoke from the heart, expressing his driving passion to see people become more engaged, motivated and confident, as they enter later life through a programme designed to reinvigorate lives and relationships, bringing benefits to both business and society.
Peter highlighted how as a society we no longer see ‘retirement’ as synonymous with the image of ‘pipe and slippers’ and slowing down, and that for the baby boomer generation now in this transition, that view is far removed from their everyday reality. In fact, many who can afford to, actually do not want to retire; they crave mental stimulation and a sense of value and worth that work affords them, and increasingly are volunteering and contributing in whatever way they can!
Peter addressed three main points:
- ‘You don’t know what you don’t know’ – using an image of a young couple preparing the nursery for the arrival of a new born baby, Peter pulled on the example of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) who provide an opportunity for parents to address some of their fears and concerns through practical application and experience sharing of others, prior to the big day! Yet we seemingly fail to prepare those facing an equally significant transition into retirement and later life.
- ‘It has to be at a strategic level’ – Peter reiterated that organisations can ill afford to ignore the signs of the effects of the demographic shift within the workplace. It requires leadership and direction at boardroom level, coupled with a sense of urgency in starting to address the emerging problems associated with an ageing workforce. One of the first steps is to ask some key questions “Do we really understand our older workforce?” Multiple questions follow, however, one of the keys to ensuring our older workers feel valued and continue to be productive is good line management. Peter referred to ‘line manager lottery’, just how well prepared are line managers to manage an individual much older and who quite possibly carries in their head more knowledge and understanding than the organisation can afford to lose, and who may desire flexibility in work and, above all, respect and a sense that they are valued?
- ‘You want to make a difference’ – Can we as employers, whilst valuing the individual in the work place, also recognise that employees may also want to give back to the wider society. JLR had highlighted just how significant that is for their employees and how it complements the CSR objectives.
In closing Peter touched on the Envisage model, ‘Taking Stock’ and ‘Taking Action’.
‘Taking Stock’ through offering organisations a consultancy service to help them better understand their older workforce and look at ways of retaining and improving their contribution and in so doing helping the employer and individuals make clear plans that are mutually understood. ‘Taking Stock’ by offering employees and their partner the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop to see what ‘later life’ may look like for them and to start to formulate a plan; a road map that will guide them, without too many bumps along the road.
‘Taking Action’ – Peter re-emphasised the opportunity for older workers mentoring their younger colleagues giving them a sense of value whilst unlocking the social and emotional skills of the younger workers so they can also flourish in the work place. This places emphasis on the benefits of volunteering to help generate a sense of purpose and self-esteem that will continue beyond the workplace.
A reoccurring theme throughout from all contributors was that of unlocking potential, investing in and placing value in older workers. This was coupled with a stark warning that both individuals and organisations maybe unwittingly walking towards a cliff edge, which for some may be a point of no return, so positive and urgent action is needed to ensure that Britain as a whole transitions well into later life.
To find out how Envisage can release the potential of your older workers, contact Peter Holt via email [firstname.lastname@example.org] or phone [02380 082298]
Rachael Saunders Director Age at Work, BITC, PowerPoint Slides – Rachael Saunders
Jaguar Land Rover Group – Pilot workshop PowerPoint Slides – Jaguar Land Rover Group
Peter Holt CEO The Envisage Initiative – Creating new role models PowerPoint slides – The Envisage Initiative