Sunday, 9 November 2014

Time to rethink ageing. It equals living.

There are many lightbulb moments in life but its not as if a switch gets thrown one day and "OMG, I'm 50, what now?"

And so, last month in London, interest and passion for ageing came together to get some joined up thinking going. The object of this exercise was to probe the edges of The Age Of No Retirement (AONR). Undeniable yet broadly ignored, this age is already upon us.
That the world is getting older and that we are living longer is generally accepted - to a point. That the entire notion and nature of "retirement" is in need of an overhaul, is less generally accepted.

27 provocateurs, 200+ debaters and a sold-out invited audience gathered to address this collective blind spot.

Distorted reality clearly exists. Retirement remains a highly prized while strongly incentivized finale to a lifetime of employment. Meanwhile, how long were going to live is gradually increasing, while expectations for retirement have remained constant.

This is a prickly disconnect. In the same way that the benefits of conventional retirement have been exaggerated, our understanding of what it means to reach 50 years of age - with the potential to live another 40 - has not been taken on board.

If we expect to accrue benefits from the AONR, ageing needs to be repositioned as synonymous with living.  Such thinking challenges every preconceived notion about ageing that we possess.

The debates encouraged no holds barred thinking. How is an ageing work force honestly perceived? How flexible and adaptable can these people be and are the skills acquired over a lifetime actually transferable? What about ageism, degree of digital exclusion and the limits of physical and cognitive functioning?  If the answers to all these questions is  negative then, how do we turn these into positive outcomes?  How do we objectively tap into this fallow, talent pool? Where is it stated that innovation is the exclusive purview of the young?

The fact remains that the only natural resource we have not depleted and is actually increasing is the human capital of our ageing population. We need to tap into these plentiful reserves but the reserves need to ready themselves for this new period of life.
Its clear that unless we can shift attitudes about our ageing selves and bodies, we cannot ascribe value to living over an extended period of time.

If we are serious about making retirement obsolete, public consensus including ownership of life long learning will be necessary.

Jonathan Collie of Trading Times and George Lee of Commonland, are preparing an impact report; we await its publication and its actionable outcomes. In the interim, the Age of No Retirement continues its unrelenting advance...

Deborah Gale

This blog was originally printed on Gransnet 30/10/14

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Who can really retire?


The last of the baby boomers turns fifty in 2014. This huge cohort is said to have defined the modern age. Not only have the first teenagers come to an advanced age, they are likewise crossing into a different time to grow old. Unsurprisingly, their retirement experience is also turning out to be very different.

While it is misleading to generalise about anyone over 50, traditional retirement for leading edge boomers (born 1946-1955) was broadly accepted as the norm. The situation is markedly different for trailing edge boomers (born 1956-1964), where any expectations of retirement at 65, have been systematically dismantled.

At the same time, longevity estimates have gradually been increasing. The mismatch between retirement expectations and the realities of living an additional 30-40 years; potentially more than half of an adult life, has not been seriously acknowledged

This was the challenge laid down by the organisers of The Age of NO Retirementn which ran from October 1-2, 2014. Over the course of two days:  27 provocations, 120 provocateurs, 200 plus debaters and a sold out audience came together to address the requirements and 21st C complexities, of the Age of No Retirement.

We're talkin' about a revolution but while the assembled revolutionaries attacked the retirement conundrum with gusto, there is a limit to what can change, at present. Dr Ros Altmann, newly appointed government champion for older workers, opened the conference with a call to rethink later life and recognise this group as the economic engine of the future. Similarly, Baroness Sally Greengross, of the International Longevity Centre, commented  that businesses face serious shortages of labor in the near future and new ways to engage older workers who want to work later alongside those who have to work later will be necessary in order to build an inter-generationally connected society. Lord Geoffrey Filkin of the £50M lottery funded Centre for Ageing Better, spoke of the overarching need to prepare for retirement, potentially a time of no income, by focusing on: personal health, building on existing capabilities and new abilities, while simultaneously maximising the psycho-social dimensions that will support a better, later life. There was no denying that poor health, poverty and mental frailty are key factors that will "ruin" ageing, for many. But, leaving these issues aside, unless companies come up with concrete opportunities to retain, retrain and reinvent these would-be-retirees and until these changes are demanded by the cohort itself, nothing much will really change.

In the meantime, reconfiguring jobs and reconsidering employment options is hard work, for everyone. And as attractive as the so called "portfolio career" might sound, that kind of  flexibility assumes a great deal of choice; something else that is in short supply as this cohort ages. In the same way that ageing is not a homogeneous process, ageing is very unequal and social inequality starts very early in life.

This is a big nut to crack but it's time to give it a go. Conventional wisdom suggests that the older you get, the less you have to lose. That thinking is untenable starting immediately. Value must be ascribed to every phase of life, from natural  beginning to natural end. Conventional retirement has already been retired and the transition between midlife and serious old age is growing in importance.  It represents an extension of the same subtle interplay between continuity and change that accompanied every other transition in life. The Age of No Retirement deserves careful consideration.

Conference organisers, Dr Jonathan Collie of Trading Times and George Lee of Commonland plan to publish their impact report in mid-November. Watch this space for actionable outcomes inspired by this incisive, dispassionate review of the no retirement megatrend.

Deborah Gale
This blog originally appeared on The Work Foundation blog
 The Work Foundation transforms people’s experience of work and the labour market through high quality applied research that empowers individuals and influences public policies and organisational practices.