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Susy Roberts

Hunter Roberts Consulting Limited


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‘Unretired’: developing learning strategies for older employees


There is an increasing trend for older employees to return to work after retiring – or simply not to retire at all. This offers new opportunities for employers to make use of the skills of ‘unretired’ workers – and write them into their learning and development strategies.

Traditionally, learning and development is viewed as something used to help new generations of talent to progress, to the benefit of the individual and organisation alike. However, there is untapped potential to be explored within employees who have reached traditional retirement age but who still have a huge amount to contribute.

A recent retirement survey by the Transamerica Center for Research Studies found that two thirds of those currently approaching traditional retirement age plan to or already are working past age 65, or do not plan to retire at all.

In another study by the University of Manchester and University College London, one in four retirees said they plan to work or plan to return to work within five years of retiring.

This presents a huge opportunity for growth and development of those who retire from ‘traditional’ roles to re-engage with the organisation and contribute their expertise and experience in a different way or on new terms.

Re-inventing retirement

Those with experience in their existing workforce can be developed much further than simply being given casual opportunities to stay busy – part-time delivery driving or retail work, for example. Savvy organisations should already be incorporating this new generation of talent into their learning and development strategies.

The traditional view – that people hit ‘old age’ at 60 to 65, no longer applies; older people are fitter, healthier more active and living longer than ever before. We are now living 25 to 30 years longer than our great grandparents.

Unlike the transition from the first and second acts of life, where every stage of development has support – from parenting, to teaching, career planning and goals – we enter this third stage alone.

This new age group renders the traditional retirement age redundant.  Organisations must become agile to respond to the complexities of the concept of un-retirement and the unprecedented speed of the changes that are taking place in our aging population.

Harnessing experience

Rather than tailing off learning and development for the older element of the workforce, or simply sending people on courses focused on preparing for retirement, financial planning, the skills and experience they can continue to offer should be carefully considered when developing training plans.

We often see people retiring at the ‘traditional’ age then, three or four years later, realising that they are not ready for retirement. This phenomenon is increasingly being replaced by those who are approaching retirement age and know they are not ready to do so, but have no plans or support in place to accommodate the shift.

Research from LV Insurance found that over-45s spend longer planning for a holiday than they do their retirement. Most people have a plan that involves travel or family support, but nothing beyond - they simply drift into retirement.

Supporting the unretired

Unlike the transition from the first and second acts of life, where every stage of development has support – from parenting, to teaching, career planning and goals – we enter this third stage alone.

In retirement, we are entering unknown territory. There are no alarm clocks, no targets to achieve, no teams to motivate and, above all, no one to guide us. This gives organisations a whole new area of learning and development to consider. How can this talent be harnessed for the good of all, rather than simply left to drift?

There is huge potential for the un-retired to ensure that virtual teams are not isolated and have regular face-to-face contact to discuss any issues they may be having.

The global business landscape is changing at an incredibly fast pace, with global teams operating in a 24/7, ‘always on’ culture. These teams may be increasingly made up of technically-savvy millennials, but there is always a seat at the table for a retired employee with decades of experience.

What can they contribute to an organisation to assist these global teams? How can their skills be utilised in order to contribute to the ever-changing political, financial and social landscapes?

Empathy versus automation

The rapid growth in the use of automation and robotics in routine jobs will also affect the roles available for older people who want to move on from their existing jobs but aren’t ready to fully retire. Retirees previously favoured these kinds of routine jobs as a simple yet fulfilling way to ease into full retirement.

Although we are more connected, we have less human contact. In this age of automation and communication via technological tools, there’s a huge amount of value to be found in developing the skills of an older person to allow them to focus on wellbeing and community values, while the next generation of talent explores technology and new ways of doing business.

A Harvard study carried out over 80 years found that loneliness is as detrimental to health as smoking or alcoholism.

There is huge potential for the un-retired to ensure that virtual teams are not isolated and have regular face-to-face contact to discuss any issues they may be having.

A manager in Hong Kong may not be able to visit a team member in London personally, but an older person with decades of experience could be on-hand for regular one-to-one sessions to the benefit of all parties. Routine jobs may be replaceable, but empathy and experience is not.

Choice or necessity?

“The anticipated increase in longevity and resulting ageing populations is the financial equivalent of climate change,” says Michael Drexler, head of financial and infrastructure systems at the World Economic Forum.

“We must address it now or accept that its adverse consequences will haunt future generations, putting an impossible strain on our children and grandchildren.”

With millennials priced out of the property market and wages continuing to stagnate, the savings of older people are increasingly being used to help children onto the property ladder – or even just to keep up with the bills.

Lack of savings combined with a pension deficit presents a very real need for older people to keep working, whether they want to or not. Organisations have a social responsibility to factor in this older generation.

Employers can’t force people to retire – the default retirement age was scrapped in 2011 – but they can terminate the employment of an older person if it’s ‘objectively justified and proportionate.’ This leaves organisations free to set their own terms on what they feel is justified and proportionate and when it’s time to manage out aging workers.

Leading the way

If an organisation’s strategy is to manage out workers in their sixties, they need to start thinking about how their learning and development plans can extend that period into the seventies, eighties or even nineties. Otherwise, they face the very real prospect of claims of unfair dismissal from people determined to cling on to their jobs because they rely on their salaries.

Leaders need to be asking what it means for their organisations, not only in terms of their people, but also their customers. What impact will the ageing population have on resource requirements? How will the needs of customers change? How can training and development needs be adapted to respond in the most agile way?

We need to be asking these questions now and planning for change, not waiting for it to happen.

Interested in this topic? Read Learning through the ages: making it work for all.

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Susy Roberts


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