by Aiken PR
Nancy Pelosi was in town last week and while the media focus was on her visiting the border “out of respect for the courage of those who took part in the talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement,” her visit got me thinking on another matter entirely; the contribution of older people to business and to society in general.
As Speaker of the House (the only woman to have served in the role) and one of the most senior US politicians, when Pelosi speaks people listen. She has been a major influence in US politics for almost 40 years but perhaps never more so than in the last three when she has proved herself a fierce and able opponent to the current president. At 79 Pelosi is a mother and grandmother and one that would appear, looking at images of her taking oath in January this year, to be very engaged with family. She has also just been listed in the Time100 most influential people edition.
Pelosi’s valuable contribution to politics and to wider society long after what is still viewed as ‘retirement age’ is undeniable but is this seen as an anomaly or the norm for people of age? It’s time to reconsider how we view ‘pensioners’.
The world has changed. Life expectancy is increasing rapidly, but what has commonly been referred to as retirement age, didn’t increase much from the earliest retirement legislation was passed in Europe around the turn of the 19th Century until around 2010 when it was recognised that state pension age would need to change to be fit for a population that was living longer. The State Pension age will increase for both men and women to reach 66 by October 2020 with further planned increases that will see it rise from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028. Of course, this only dictates the date at which the state pension can be claimed, there is no legal retirement age, and employers can no longer force their employees to retire at a particular age. It’s up to the individual when they decide to stop working.
Many who reach pensionable age will want to retire and may well have ‘see more of the grandchildren’ and ‘drive route 66 on a Harley’ as top of their bucket list however, there is a growing number who want to continue to work, who feel they have much to contribute either in their existing workplace or by using experience built over many years in new ways. And of course, there are those who will continue to work because they cannot afford not to.
Whatever the reason, the number of people working into their seventies is increasing. In 2017 Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions showed for the first time, that Britain’s average “exit age” from employment surpassed 65 for men, with women fast closing in. Figures then showed more than one in 10 men were working beyond the age of 70, while 8pc of women were also working past this threshold. Those figures are on an upward trajectory. The number of employees expecting to work past the age of 70 nearly doubled in seven years to 2018 according to a study from Willis Towers Watson which found almost a third of workers expect to be employed after their 70th birthday, up from only 17 per cent in 2010.
How are we as a society equipped to make the most of the experience and value offered by septuagenarians and, indeed, their elders? How can employers channel their talent’s experience in a way that is advantageous to both the employee and the business?
To find the answers it is worth looking to Japan where it is estimated that by 2040, one third of the population will be over 65. McKinsey & Company in its paper Japan: Lessons from a hyperaging society refers to a survey by the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 66 percent of the respondents over 60 expressed an interest in continuing to work beyond the age of 65.
McKinsey contends there are two issues that can curb employment of older people: general resistance of companies and a lack of a large market to outplace older workers. It cites three approaches that need to be taken to address the issues and provides examples of companies who are adopting them. The approaches are to encourage a range of work formats, such as introducing part time options, addressing labour shortages by employing people in under staffed sectors such as the care sector and the third is to create knowledge and skill networks. The latter sees companies generating worth by encouraging older people to share their experience of tackling problems, especially in the areas of management, marketing and sales, development and production, with a younger workforce.
But how much is our traditional view of older people impacting on how we value them in the workplace? We look to Japan again where in 2017, it is reported in the Japan Times, a group of academic societies, including the Japan Gerontological Society and the Japan Geriatrics Society, proposed redefining “elderly” as age 75 or older — instead of 65 or older as has been commonly referenced for decades — and people from 65 to 74 as “semi–elderly” who can actively engage in social activities. Scholars stated that advances in medical technology and living conditions make people five to 10 years younger in terms of their physical and intellectual abilities compared with a decade ago.
By recognising and accepting this fact we can stop viewing ‘people are living longer’ simply as a greater pressure on society and start looking positively at the valuable contribution those over 65 can make. Perhaps then we can look on Nancy Pelosi as the norm and not an anomaly.