In the 1940’s someone coined the term ‘’teenagers’’, which classified people aged between 13-19 anywhere in the world and heralded the dawn of myriad products and services tailored specifically for this group. Recognizing a demographic in this way does have benefits, such as better tailoring of products and services or increasing support and protection through government regulation. The fact that we are living longer nowadays means that there is a significant and widening gap between retirement and frailty. Characterizing anyone over retirement age as a ‘’retiree’’ is not very useful, as the variety of needs, desires and lifestyles within this demographic is huge. Is it about time that we gave a name to the rising demographic of people over retirement age that are working and far from slowing down in life? Maybe not, I would argue.
People over retirement age who still have a desire, or a need, to work have a striking amount in common with ‘’millennials’’ (people reaching adulthood in the early 21st century). Older workers are looking for flexible hours, a workplace designed with wellness in mind and the opportunity to keep learning and have new experiences – just the things that millennials demand from prospective employers. Like other aspects of life, what goes around comes around when it comes to our needs and desires related to work. Early in our careers we generally have less responsibilities and therefore the flexibility to try different things, move around and take risks. As life responsibilities such as family and mortgages come along we favour more certainty, which generally means building roots at home and work and avoiding too much risk and change. After a while, when children grow up and mortgages are paid down, we come full circle and have the opportunity to be flexible, mobile and risk taking again. These are generalizations and other life stages, such as mothers returning to work and looking for flexible working conditions, are also part of the mix. Maybe we need a term for all people of any age who prefer to work flexibly – Flexers perhaps!
Do we really need to give a name to those over retirement age who work, or can we just recognize that everyone interested in working is equal, apart from their personal need or desire for flexibility? There are people of varying ability, drive, intelligence, temperament and reliability across all demographics, and people should be assessed for jobs on these factors and not age. Characterising those over retirement age that are working could cause more harm than good –primarily by reinforcing stereotypes related to age. Retirement age cannot be defined as a number, and neither can the age when frailty sets in, so we are better not to define them at all. Instead, why not categorise the jobs that allow for flexible working hours and working location rather than the people applying? ‘’Flex’’ jobs could be advertised such as ‘’Flex Project Manager’’ or ‘’Flex Financial Director’’, people could express their preference for a ‘’flex’’ job, and if they wanted to people could use the term to describe themselves – ‘’I am working flex at a law firm now that I have paid off my mortgage’’.
We live in an era where everyone, regardless of life stage, appreciates some degree of flexibility when it comes to work. Employers should recognise this and design jobs to match the needs and desires of as many people with the required skills and experience as possible. Imagine a world where we have a truly level playing field and no demographic gets special treatment due to age, where employers can interview candidates of all ages side by side and make objective hiring decisions based on suitability. Working towards this world sounds far better to me than endlessly carving up demographics.
Thomas Thor Associates is a leading recruitment, executive search and HR consulting organisation dedicated to the global nuclear industry – which happens to be an industry with an ageing workforce. Our mission is to help build and sustain a competent workforce in the global nuclear industry. An increasing portion of the workforce are over traditional retirement age and the industry is benefiting hugely from the skills and experience of these people. As well as fulfilling operational and project based roles, they are also transferring skills to new generations of workers. We are proud to be promoting and supporting the transition to more flexible working, in line with the needs and desires of people of all ages in the global talent pool.