- Happy Birthday, but when will you retire……………?


The Queen’s recent 90th birthday is a timely reminder that we are all living longer, and the age of ‘retirement’ is receding further.

The proportion of UK employees working beyond what used to be retirement age is growing more quickly than the numbers entering work for the first time. Just over a tenth of over-65s had a job last year, double the rate of 1993. That figure is certain to grow as the effects of the abolition of the default retirement age are felt and the state pension age rises over time. The proportion of over-50s in the workforce, meanwhile, sits at around 30 per cent, and in some industries is a lot higher. According to recent government projections, those born in 2012 will not be drawing a pension until they are 77.

Yet despite this, many employers are still ill-prepared to cope with employees working longer.


Pensions Minister Ros Altmann says too few employers audit their age profile in the same way they may do gender or ethnicity: “Age is very much the poor relation of the diversity agenda. It’s not at the top of businesses’ priorities. They know they need to look at it, and larger employers are starting to work on it, but smaller companies – the ones that may need to do the most work – aren’t because they’re dealing with more pressing issues”.

Many managers are fearful of raising the topic of retirement at all, in case they are seen as discriminatory. But although you can’t ask someone if they plan to retire, that shouldn’t mean career planning for older employees is off the table. You can still have that conversation about where someone sees themselves in 3 – 5 years, and use this to help the employee make informed choices.


Building and maintaining good, trusting relationships with all your employees will help in managing an aging workforce, as individuals will feel comfortable saying ‘I’m coming up to 65 but I’m not ready to leave yet’, which will enable you to plan around this. Some will still be happy to leave the business at 65 or earlier, while others may want to discuss part-time options. What’s important, is that you consider all possibilities and look at each case individually.

A growing trend towards more agile ways of working, together with an open approach to flexible and part-time work, will support older employees to work longer. People of all ages will take on work in pieces, being measured on output, which will work well for older employees too, particularly if they’re caring for an elderly relative.

Looking to the future

In the longer term, employers face a broader challenge than simply dealing with multi-generational workforces. According to experts, many of the things companies do around career development and reward are designed for traditional career structures, where seniority and salary increase over time. However, many of the current jobs might not exist in the future, and will change more dramatically and at a quicker pace than we expect. Employers will have to be more effective in how they tap into experience, be more creative about flexible working, and think harder about how people work.

Su Allen HR helps employers by providing a range of HR support that includes advice on how to handle difficult situations, writing clear policies which ensure fairness and consistency in all aspects of managing employees, and providing coaching and training where required. Contact us on 01582 883299 if you’d like to hear more.

Helen Skepper
Su Allen HR