Can you help with a research questionnaire?

Are you over 65 and still in work, either in employment or self-employed. If so, perhaps you could spare a few minutes to help with a survey as part of a project being conducted by Middlesex University, Keio University (Japan) and Boston College. This “Work and Retirement Survey” forms part of a major research project “Age Diversity at the Workplace”.

For more information check out the website at http://www.agediversity.org/en/index.asp

For the survey see http://mdx.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_8jkovxxzQr6eO7G&SVID=Prod

For an introduction to the survey see http://breeze.mdx.ac.uk/survey

Lions 1 – Over 65s 0

In Roman gladiator times it used to be “Lions or Christians”. Now it appears it is “Lions or Over 65s”, at Longleat at least. The safari park attraction – owned by the 78-year-old Marquess of Bath – has axed all its pensionable workers a year before the practice is outlawed by the Government.

Nearly 30 members of staff – including 18 over 70, seven over 75 and two who were still grafting in their 80s – have been made redundant in the last two weeks. They were cleaners, telephone operators, tour guides and ticket booth attendants, some of whom live on the 8,000-acre estate in Wiltshire.

Union leaders slammed the move as age discrimination and a cynical ploy to avoid new government legislation which comes into force next October. Trade Union Congress (TUC) regional secretary Nigel Costley said the move is an “own goal” for the estate.

Campaign charity Age UK said it was already aware of a similar incident at Battersea Dogs Home, where a number of workers over 65 had been made redundant.

So it’s “Dogs 1 – Over 65s 0” as well.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the charity, admitted she feared tens of thousands of Britain’s 846,000 working pensioners could be at risk of being axed. She said, “We are concerned some employers might be tempted to rush out forced retirement notices before the proposed ban comes into force. The fact this is legally allowed doesn’t make it any less unfair to older employees who would see their working lives cut short for no reason other than their age.”

Perhaps it is time in my prime started a “Roll of Dishonour”?

Working beyond 65 – the latest trend

According to figures just released from the Office of National Statistics an extra 40,000 people over the age of 65 have joined the workforce in the last three months taking the total number to 823,000. This is the highest level since the ONS started keeping these figures in 1992 and has occurred despite other widely reported statistics that show huge numbers of over 50s who want to work are unable to get jobs. If they were able to find employment, it is possible this total might double.

These figures mean that one in 12 people over 65 is now working. Some are doing so for obvious financial reasons belying the myth of baby boomers as the “golden generation”who are rolling in money. (According to Aviva, 12 per cent of people aged 65 to 74 still have a mortgage with an average amount outstanding of £59,858.)

More significantly, it is an indication that some are actively choosing to work longer.

In the Daily Telegraph, Ros Altman, ex-Government pensions adviser is reported as saying, “This is a reflection of things to come. For some people working longer is not terrible”.

In the light of negative reactions to abolishing the default retirement age and extending working lives these figures need careful consideration. More than anything else they are proof that 60 or 65, for many, is far too young to stop working. Working longer isn’t terrible, it is something they actively want to do.

Yes, in the same way that we think it would good to win the lottery, most of us think we would love to give up work if we could afford to. But what this shows is that when it comes to it, many over 60s are fit, healthy, and fully capable and want to keep on going for as long as they can. Working provides people with a purpose, value and a place in mainstream society. And after all, if you’ve always avoided living on state handouts throughout your life, why would you – as an active older person – want to do so now?

Scrapping the default retirement age will save employers money!

At last – some positive news to counter the relentless media reports of employers and employer bodies who are “angered”, “incensed” and “furious” at the government’s decision to abolish the Default Retirement Age.

According to a new consultation paper just issued by the government, employers stand to save £45 million in the first year after it is scrapped with savings increasing to £71 million a year within a decade. In terms of benefits for the economy the estimates are that the Exchequer will gain an extra £79 million in tax revenues in the first year rising to £132 million extra each year after a decade.

Apparently savings will come from reducing the administrative burden of the “right to request” procedure, fewer employment tribunals and increased profits resulting from an increase in labour supply.

Offsetting this, of course, are the one-off costs of implementing the new rules which are estimated as  £38 million, (£18.1 million for time taken for familiarisation with the change in legislation – plus  £20.1 million for the cost of introducing performance and appraisal systems in firms that don’t currently have them). Somehow it seems a bit unfair to shovel all the costs of introducing performance management systems onto the older worker issue. Surely in this day and – litigious – age, all firms should have performance management systems for all staff – though the fact that they don’t is one of the big issues underlying the problem with abolishing DRA.

And, of course, there is likely to be an increase in employment tribunal cases from some older employees who have been dismissed rather than allowed to retire… so nothing is simple.

It’s good, however, to have some ammunition to offset the air of employer negativity surrounding the move. Surely it will be welcomed too by those employers who do take a more far-sighted view.

Click here to access the consultation paper: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/employment-matters/docs/p/10-1047-default-retirement-age-consultation

A new beginning for older workers

So, at long last, the Default Retirement Age (DRA) is to be scrapped. The decision has been a long time coming but, for all that, it is very welcome and a great step forward. It must be especially pleasing for the various campaigning groups which have been tirelessly working for its abolition.

However, the real winners will be those employees who wish to work past 65 plus the economy in general and we will now see objective evaluation of the vast skill pool of older workers, hitherto consigned to the scrap heap because employers found it convenient and an easy form of “management”.

Nevertheless, as with all decisions, this marks not the end but the start of the real process of change. There is much for legislators to clarify and there is much for employers to tackle. For many it will mean a whole culture change and the application of proper, objective performance management systems instead of a shrug of the shoulders and a “you know it’s not down to me” attitude.

But the real overall winner is age neutrality in the workplace. The implied, associated rigorous and defensible measurements of performance are not confined to older workers – they should be taking place at all ages – and continued employment should be properly earned and justified by employer and employee alike.

It is also not just a question of dealing with those approaching 65. The tendencies to allow people to stagnate, to coast or to “bat out time” through the latter parts of their careers must be fundamentally re-examined for the benefit of all concerned. New ways of managing and engaging staff, flexible working possibilities – all very exciting.

Watch this space!

Pensions – it’s all relative

There is much that could be said about yesterday’s decision to increase the state pension age for men. But most of it has been said elsewhere.  

What it did throw into sharp relief was the notion of relativity. The London Evening Standard (and no doubt other places) reported that if the state pension age had gradually been increased in line with increasing life expectancy since the state pension age was first introduced, the age for claiming it would now be 75.  

And yet, in France, there is major complaint about the fact it is being increased to age 62.  

It underlines the fact that basic human behaviour and attitudes change very little whatever the situation. If you want to change something do it subtly and slowly over a long period of time. Assuming the underlying proposition is reasonable, people then find little to complain about.

Let’s separate older workers and pensions issues

News today of a survey of HR Directors* which shows that 75% are against having the Default Retirement Age increased or abolished.  Within this figure 85% give as a reason that it would result in fewer opportunities for younger staff, while 70% believe it would lead to problems associated with performance diminishing with age. 74% see problems with ongoing funding of pensions.

Overall this is depressing news. The arguments about younger worker opportunities and older worker performance are ill-founded and fatuous and can be ascribed only to lack of thought and/or ignorance on the part of those who responded in this way.

However, the funding of pensions is a different issue and should not be considered alongside the other arguments.  The pension an organization provides and on what basis is something that can be changed and obviously needs to be in light of our ageing workplace demographic.

Pensions aside, the other arguments are founded on a judgment made of people purely on a single criterion: chronological age.

What this means logically is that an employer has no worries about fewer opportunities for younger staff or an employee’s diminishing performance, and/or feels no compunction to address them, until the magical time a person turns 65 (or whatever their DRA) when suddenly it becomes so important that it is a basis for wanting to get rid of that person.

Surely this is discrimination of the highest order.

*Click on this link to read more: survey of 189 HR heads by IRS, published exclusively by XpertHR

Good news and bad judgement

Hooray! Harriet Harman has announced that moves to end “default” retirement at 65 are being brought forward, with older workers also getting the right to request flexible retirement/working options (not that this means they will automatically get them). No doubt there are many dark and devious economic and political forces at work behind this but no matter – the outcome is just as welcome.

Two interesting points stood out from Ms Harman’s speech: the first referring to the role of older women, many of whom are just getting into their prime in their working life – having taken time off work when their children were young. This is a point which is largely ignored in talking about later life working where male work patterns are generally used as the standard. Much more attention needs to be paid to gender differences in work attitudes and abilities in later life if erroneous assumptions are not to be made by employers about what older workers want and are able and prepared to do.

The second point was Ms Harman’s use of the term the “wellderly” to describe well, older people. By doing so she has shot herself in the foot and demonstrated she has completely missed the point – which is that older working people are NOT elderly. Let’s hope this dreadful term is relegated to the government’s “thought it was a good idea at the time but let’s pretend it never happened” pile, immediately.

Wood and trees

The recent and ongoing row between the government and scientists over the danger levels of various narcotic substances serves as a sharp reminder that in respect of most social issues our leaders just don’t seem able to see the bigger picture and grasp what’s really at stake. There’s a tendency to become embroiled in table-thumping and tantrums about completely the wrong thing. In this case it surely doesn’t matter whether ecstasy or cannabis is more or less dangerous than something or other else, what matters is that we live in a society where drug-taking and alcohol abuse is endemic, so what needs addressing are issues of cultural change. This inability to see the wood for the trees doesn’t seem to be a political thing, policy makers of all denominations and from all sorts of organisations seem to have difficulty identifying and addressing what the real problems are and devoting resources to the areas where they might actually make a difference.

Certainly this is the case with issues surrounding older workers. In the next year or so there’s going to be a massive amount of disagreement, argument and petulance over whether or not the default retirement age should be abolished. Although I believe it should, I also believe that actually it misses the point. What matters is fundamental attitudinal change on the part of employers, workers themselves and society as a whole that older people have continuing right to work for as long as they want or need to and shouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of ‘age’. What a shame all that energy and publicity won’t be seen as furthering that cause.

A grey day for Heyday? Not in the longer term.

And so the “Heyday” case has finally drawn to a conclusion with seemingly disappointing results. Even in its final battle Heyday was destined to be a loser and its (poorly chosen) name will thankfully fade away into history. Let’s hope the new merged charity sticks to its knitting and does not make the same mistakes again. However, that is another story – for another day.

On the surface the outcome of the Heyday case is unhelpful, certainly to those who have had age discrimination cases pending. Much has already been written in the press about the case and we don’t wish to go over this ground again. The judge took a particular standpoint based largely on a historical perspective and this has let the government off the hook, at least in the short term. However, moving forward, it will clear the air and allow fresh and proper thinking instead of continued attempts to justify the previously taken, and very weak, position.

The demographics are moving one way only. The financial concerns of our older citizens and of government are moving one way only. And the skills needs of industry, business and employers at large are moving one way only. The debate can, therefore, move in one direction only. Nevertheless, it has to remain top of the agenda and we applaud all of those organisations which are fighting and lobbying to bring about the necessary changes, sooner rather than later.

We, at in my prime, have a slightly different perspective. We are more concerned with the next phase. How are employers going to manage their older workforces? How are individuals of any age going to plan for the rest of their lives, find the right balance between work and non-work, and determine the necessary stepping stones? And how are employers, employees and government going to work together to find solutions which are in the best interests of all concerned?

The Heyday judgement is just a temporary setback – but nothing in this life worth having comes easy.

itea and Biscuits week and ‘Internet Champion Search’!

Age Concern and Help the Aged are looking for an Internet Champion to represent the charity and provide a leading light for the estimated 6.4 million people 65+ who have never used the internet, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

Many older people never have the chance to use the Internet, despite new research from Age Concern and Help the Aged finding that older people see the benefit of the internet with three in four people believing it to be a useful tool to stay in contact with friends and family (ICM survey 11-18 September 2009). The research also found that 61% of older people believe the internet to be a useful way of making savings on products and services.

The Internet Champion – who will be a regular older person who has embraced the internet – will show older people that using the internet is a realistic possibility for them and that they too can reap the benefits of being online.

The winner of the Internet Champion search will receive a laptop computer, a complete BT package including BT Total Broadband, as well as an all-expenses paid trip to London. For more information visit www.ageconcern.org.uk/it.

itea and biscuits week, supported by BT, offers older people nationwide the opportunity to get involved in technology ‘taster sessions’ at local Age Concerns and other supporting organisations from September 21 to 25.

What is a regular older person?

The Internet Champion search aims to find an ordinary person (aged 55+) who has recently learned to use the internet and whose personal story can inspire others. The search will begin on 21 September 2009 and end on 13 November 2009 with the winner being selected by a panel of judges from Age Concern and Help the Aged. To apply, candidates will need to fill in the Internet Champion application form which can be downloaded from www.ageconcern.org.uk/it.

 

Dumb, depressed and drunk?

An interesting piece of research floated past the radar this morning. Apparently a recent University of Michigan study of several thousand “seniors” found that those in the US performed significantly better than their counterparts in England on standard tests of memory and cognitive function. The study is the first known international comparison of cognitive function in nationally representative samples of older adults in the United States and England. It revealed that the overall difference in cognitive performance between the two countries was quite large – approaching the magnitude associated with about 10 years of ageing. In other words, the cognitive performance of 75-year-olds in the U.S. was as good, on average, as that of 65-year-olds in England.

The reasons why this may be are numerous and require further investigation. However the indicators are that a number of factors may play a part: First, higher levels of education and net worth in the United States accounted for some of the better cognitive performance; second, U.S. adults reported significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms than English adults (unlike Brits, they seek medication if they are depressed), and this may have accounted for some of the U.S. advantage in brain health since depression is linked with worse cognitive functioning; and third, significant differences in alcohol consumption between the U.S. and English seniors may play a role with more than 50 percent of U.S. seniors reporting no alcohol use, compared to only 15.5 percent of English seniors. Previous research has shown that moderate alcohol consumption, compared to abstinence, is linked with better cognition among those aged 50 and over.

Interesting links and interesting messages. Okay, maybe we can’t do much about our existing levels of education and net worth in later years, but keeping the brain active, keeping involved, interested and in the mainstream to stave off depression (and perhaps seeking treatment if it does occur), and cutting back on alcohol are all things which are possible and achievable. If it helps keep the brain ticking over that much better in later old age surely it’s got to be worth the effort.

More about the study at http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/553659/

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