Giving older consultants a bad name

The model of older workers moving into consultancy in later life in order to both meet their own career and life aspirations and to free up jobs within the talent pipeline in their previous workplace is a good one.

It’s unfortunate then that stories such as the one reported in the Daily Mail cast an unfavourable light on the practice. The article comments on examples of paying retired senior police officers what appear to be large sums for consultancy services.

Of course, daily consultancy rates taken out of context can appear high but fail to take into account the non-paid downtime that is a feature of most consultants’ working lives. In this case, this expenditure may still have added up to value for money for the services delivered compared to continuing to pay these individuals as employees, considering their experience.

However as Jonathan Isaby, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance commented: ‘Very serious questions need to be asked about how former police chiefs seemingly went through a revolving door that saw them retire, only then to be paid exorbitant amounts of money.

This doesn’t do the cause of most ordinary individuals doing reasonable and valuable amounts of consultancy work post-retirement any favours at all.


Budget blues

It has always seemed to me a great pity that politicians and business leaders never seem to take the big and painful decisions at the right time – that is when times are good, rather than when times are bad and they are no longer in control of the process. Oh for a few farsighted statesmen rather than the short-termists we always seem to get, concerned only with their own immediate impact and survival.

And so it is now with the various measures being taken to deal with the issues surrounding a large and growing older population. The Budget just announced has come in for a lot of criticism, as they all do, in particular this time with regard to pensions and pensioners. But the concerns driving some of the current measures have been coming for decades and nobody was prepared to tackle them at the appropriate time. And so they have to be addressed now, at a time when any measure is going to be painful for someone, whether it is the young, the “squeezed middle” or the older population. In the end the pain will have to be shared around and we can only hope that such pain will, in the long run, be less here than in some other countries.

So let us stand back a moment and look at the bigger and longer term scenario, one that will quite definitely not go away of its own accord. There are certain things about matters related to demographics – they have the weight of numbers on their side and you can see them coming a long way off.

The first thing is that the population as a whole is living much longer than it used to. Living longer is generally a good thing, provided we can address the issues surrounding health, personal financial well-being, and a reason to get up in the morning. Living longer is something that will affect everyone, the young, the middle-aged and the elderly and so measures must be put in place to prepare everyone for later life, in an environment in which government funding is not a bottomless pit. After all, the money comes from us – we give with one hand we take with the other.

Therefore living longer (a good thing) implies working longer and/or saving more. And so state pension age will have to increase alongside increasing longevity, not only for financial reasons but for an individual’s feeling of value and worth and for the social interaction work brings. With this must come the ability to stay in work longer, in terms of health, the work environment itself and the right to continued employment.

And for those with some way to go to retirement, saving must be seen as a worthwhile venture. For some years there has been a powerful lobby suggesting there be an adequate universal pension for everyone, removing the excuse that saving is not worthwhile because with means testing later on you might as well spend it now rather than save it. This is being put in place. What we now need are some worthwhile savings mechanisms. They too, hopefully, are coming.

It is quite possible to argue about the fairness of the transition arrangements, for all sectors of the population not just pensioners, but directionally I believe that we are now beginning to see some progress.





Age friendly products

I have recently been alerted, via Dick Stroud’s excellent blog site, (see to what appears to be the re-launch of the Age UK age friendly product/service accreditation scheme. It was previously called “Age OK” and now is called “Engage” but is still extremely low profile on the Age UK website. The cost to a company is not small, £1500 for the assessment exercise and accreditation, and £1000 a year for continued membership of the Engage network. Age OK did not seem to get many takers so we will see whether Engage captures the imagination.

If I am honest, my impression is that this is a bit of a money-spinning device for Age UK rather than the “age friendly” equivalent of what we might see from Which?, for example. As a huge charity existing to serve the older population I believe Age UK could be a bit more detached and objective in their approach to this very important area.

Also, at the time of the Age OK push I suggested that there was great scope for identifying products and services which were “age unfriendly”. I am not saying that the name I facetiously constructed “Negative Age Friendly Features” or “NAFF” should do anything other than fade away but negative publicity captures the attention of organisations faster than anything else and sends a serious shudder through the ranks of an organisation’s senior management.

This brings me to the topic of “greywashing”, a subject I have been meaning to write about for a while. This I will do shortly, in conjunction with stones and glasshouses.


The European Year of Active Ageing

In case you hadn’t yet noticed:-

“2012 is the (European Commission’s) European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations. A chance for all of us to reflect on how Europeans are living longer and staying healthier than ever before  – and to realise the opportunities that represents.

Active ageing can give the baby-boom generation and tomorrow’s older adults the opportunity to:

     stay in the workforce and share their experience

     keep playing an active role in society

     live as healthy and fulfilling lives as possible.

It is also key to maintaining solidarity between generations in societies with rapidly increasing numbers of older people.”

This is how it is described on their website. For more see

Last week, on 6 March, we attended the UK launch of this major initiative with many fine speakers and a TV link-up to the relevant EU Commissioner. Quite why the launch of “2012 as the year of” should take place in March I am not quite sure.

More from the website states:

“The challenge for politicians and stakeholders will be to improve opportunities for active ageing in general and for living independently, acting in areas as diverse as employment, health care, social services, adult learning, volunteering, housing, IT services or transport.

The European Year seeks to raise awareness of the issues and the best ways of dealing with them. But most of all it seeks to encourage all policymakers and stakeholders to set themselves goals and take action to meet them. 2012 should go beyond debating; it should start bringing tangible results.”

Unfortunately, a few things stand out.

There were very few politicians, policymakers or employers, as major stakeholders, in attendance. Furthermore, a number of the speakers complained of “pilotitis” or “projectitis” a phenomenon whereby things are started while money and enthusiasm exist, then fall by the wayside until they are eventually re-invented sometime later. And, the continuing problem of lack of clarity about the needs of different groups of older people was once again apparent. Without revisiting old ground, 50 year-olds are different to 80 year-olds!

Obviously it is early days in the year, well early-ish, so maybe more will emerge.

If you wish to “get involved” or would like to suggest appropriate initiatives, do check out their website.

The yin and yang of work and retirement

Traditionally society has viewed work and retirement as different, exclusive states. Either you worked or you were retired. Now, as the range of different work to non-work transitions widens we need to alter our fundamental approach.

Thinking about this, the concept of yin and yang sprang to mind – which is surprising as it never has done so before! But, if you think that yin and yang represents an amalgamation of two opposing states then it really makes sense. According to the website Absolutely Feng Shui, Yin is soft while Yang is hard. Yin is stillness while Yang is movement. Female is Yin while Man is Yang. Intuitive is Yin while Logical is Yang. Winter is Yin while Summer is Yang, and so on….

Where’s this leading? Well, at the moment we seem to have a situation where, in general, we consider work is bad, retirement is good. Unless of course you’re an expert in well-being, or a government official in which case it’s work is good, retirement as non-productive leisure is bad.

In the future our society will face a situation where nearly everyone will have to work for a considerably extended period – albeit, ideally in some flexible fashion. So starting to think of work and retirement in yin/yang terms as an amalgamation of the best of each state could be very helpful in changing people’s attitudes. 

Work is challenging, retirement is fun; work is constraint while retirement is freedom; work is innovation, retirement is routine…. or should that be the other way round?  Anyone like to contribute any more?



Time to get real about retirement

A press release which recently arrived in my inbox highlighted that millions of Brits are dreaming of a retirement they may never get to experience.  

Research with 2000 British adults conducted by Benenden Healthcare, a mutual healthcare society, found that most Brits have an idealistic vision of their golden years where they’ll enjoy glorious sandy beaches, rounds of golf, and glamorous city breaks on at least four holidays abroad a year.

The study determined how people expect their retirement to be, before measuring those expectations against results of those already retired. It found dreams of an ideal retirement have convinced 30 per cent of Brits that their standard of living will improve dramatically once they’re able to retire.

The ‘ideal retirement v real retirement’ report found that along with golf club memberships and exotic breaks people are also dreaming of countryside walks, regular spa visits and new cars. But in reality, just one in ten are saving enough cash to support a comfortable retirement with the reality for many being that retirement will be just as much a struggle as our working years – if not more so.

Despite the majority of those interviewed expecting a comfy and relaxing retirement, 45 per cent admitted they thought they weren’t saving enough for the future with, remarkably, a fifth saving nothing at all. Indeed, three in ten people confessed to a ‘live for the now’ approach to money, with little thought given to their pension or later years because ‘there’s plenty of time yet.’

But people currently in retirement were less carefree in their assessment of retired life – less than a third said they can afford the holidays abroad that were a key feature of the ideal later life.

Lack of time, money and health issues are also preventing retired people from carrying out what they want to do. Furthermore, 35 per cent claim that retirement has seen their standard of living decrease notably and a tenth said retired life was not at all like they’d pictured it would be.

While none of this is surprising in relation to our knowledge about the reality of retirement today it does underline how little this appears to be impacting younger people’s attitudes and beliefs about later life. At a time when we are also considering our attitudes towards and treatment of older people, which in general is abysmal, it’s time that people got real about facing up to some of the horrors that might come their way.





The reality of managerial redundancy?

I’ve only just got round to viewing the surprisingly good 2010 US film The Company Men starring Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Costner.

The story focuses on a year in the life of three men trying to survive the fallout of joblessness resulting from a round of corporate downsizing at a major US company – and how that affects them, their families, and their communities.

Most poignant of the three is the role played by Chris Cooper, that of a middle manager who has risen from the factory floors to the corporate offices. He also loses his six-figure salary job, but because of his age finds himself up against corporate ageism and ultimately unemployable.

Although the film can be criticized for its overly optimistic “happy ever after” ending, the rest of it is nevertheless to be recommended as a clear and surprisingly grounded reflection of the reality of working – or non-working – life for many people today and the values and choices underpinning it.

For further information about the film go to:

The start up of you – are all humans entrepreneurs?

The co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman with co-author Ben Casnocha have recently produced a thought-provoking new book on how to apply the strategies of successful entrepreneurship to career development. In other words, how to approach your career as “the start up of you”.

Although The start-up of you is written for all ages, it comes across as particularly pertinent for helping older people understand what they need to do now in order to further their career in today’s radically altered world of work. To quote the authors, “there used to be a long-term pact between employee and employer that guaranteed life-time employment in exchange for lifetime loyalty; this pact has been replaced by a performance-based, short-term contract that’s perpetually up for renewal by both sides.”

As might be expected, the book focuses heavily on networking, but so it should. There is much evidence from the way jobs are gained today to reinforce the authors’ assertion that “Professional loyalty now flows horizontally to and from your network rather than vertically to your boss.”

Of course, to a degree it was always thus.  For many people professional success has always been more about who they know rather than what they know. However, the parameters within which that operated seemed in the past to be more constrained. Today, in the face of uncertainty the key to success in career terms increasingly seems to be adopting a persona that is nimble and self-reliant, being innovative and aiming to stand out from the crowd, i.e. thinking and acting like an entrepreneur.

The book contains plenty of good advice (if you can disentangle it from the US context and case studies) with each chapter concluding with points for action. Whether or not you agree with its approach or its somewhat frenetic tone (probably just a reflection of the more excitable US style) there’s nevertheless much to make any reader think.

Ultimately you may disagree with what the authors say, but if the end result is that it inspires you to examine your current position and approach, take greater responsibility for your own career and do things differently then it will have done a good job.