I once worked with an older
colleague who put in a full working day (and a bit more) as he
approached his 70th birthday. He used to speak of
gradually scaling down his working hours as he approached the
"sunset of his career". His main reason for working was that,
having been in the army, he had married late: his younger
children were still going through university and needed parental
People have many reasons for
working on beyond the official retirement age. There are also
many reasons for
taking early retirement, or scaling down work before you hit the
magic number. In an age that puts a
high premium on individual choice, it is strange that
governments, employers and financial services providers still
feel the need to dictate on such highly personal matters as our
career-span and the timing of our retirement.
But in the UK, at least,
there are signs that this is changing. New research by the
Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) into flexible retirement
highlights the benefits and barriers, and includes 20 case
studies of flexible retirement policies from large employers.
The research shows
how large organisations are dealing with the
how policies to support flexible retirement
can be developed and implemented, and
that employers implementing flexible
retirement practices are doing so to meet core business needs
such as skills retention and give wider choice to their
The research distinguishes
two main categories of flexible retirement policy:
Policies offering flexibility over the date of
retirement (optional retirement); and
Policies offering flexibility over both
retirement date and working patterns as retirement approaches
(optional, downshifting and gradual retirement).
The first of these types of
policy is much more common. It may be worth noting in passing
that early retirement is not always an entirely voluntary
decision - it is also often associated with company
restructuring and downsizing. In these circumstances it may be
the best available choice, rather than the best choice in
meeting personal aspirations.
Flexible working options that
the research associates with flexible retirement include:
Downshifting (gradually reducing workplace
responsibilities over time, possibly involving changing jobs
within the organisation and/or moving to a lower grade, or a
less pressurised environment)
Sabbaticals (time off to travel or to pursue
further education, or write a book, etc)
Secondments and volunteering
If it's so good, why isn't
everyone doing it? The research picked up a number of barriers
to introducing flexible retirement practices. Some of these can
be tackled in the workplace, but others require action from the
Occupational pension benefits cannot be
paid while an employee is still working for the same employer.
This makes gradual retirement unattractive because employees are
unable to supplement a reduced income (likely with part time
work or other flexible options) with their pension benefits.
This is particularly likely to affect staff
on lower incomes.
Inland Revenue Rules:
Occupational Pension Fund Structures: Rigid occupational fund structures originally
designed to protect employees are a key
barrier to employers trying to deliver flexible retirement .
Unions: Unions have worked to protect
employee rights and need to be reassured flexible retirement
policies do not threaten employees’ retirement choices and
income in retirement, nor work as a way of reducing pay for
Perceptions and Attitudes towards Older
Workers: Stereotypes about older workers are still a
major issue and include assumptions about outdated skill levels
and promotion ‘blocking’ (preventing younger employees from
advancing within an organisation). This negative view of older
workers impacts on policies designed to increase older worker
Attitudes of Managers and Individuals: The language of retirement focuses on
rather than being able to continue contributing to an
organisation. Flexible working is still unfamiliar, and there is a perception that employees taking
these options are not fully committed to the organisation.
Management Fears: There is concern over how complicated and
difficult flexible retirement might be to implement. Specific fears expressed in this research
equality of access (for all employees) and consistency of policy
how to manage performance
health and safety
meeting employee expectations.
The 20 case studies are from larger
organisations, ranging from 650 to 100,00 employees. The range
of policies they have introduced varies: some are considering
doing it, others have dipped their toes in the water, while
others have implemented a range of innovative policies.
If you're looking for ideas in the field of
flexible retirement, this isn't a bad place to start.
We've focused on flexible retirement before - and
we're extremely pleased some new research by the UK government
showing its commitment to making some changes.
The research we refer to can be found on the
Age Positive website. There's a short report there and a
selection of case studies.