A tool for starting midlife career conversations

workingwise.co.uk talks to Professor John Arnold about a self-coaching tool he has collaborated on with Brave Starts which aims to help older workers begin to think about their jobs in the longer term.

Mid life man at laptop working remotely


Is your job sustainable? Will the physical and mental demands overwhelm you as you get older or do you continue to find it stimulating and engaging?

A new self-coaching tool can provide a useful framework for conversations between individuals and employers about sustainable working in later life.

The tool is a simplified version of one which came out of a project by European Union agency Eurofound on sustainable work in mid-late careers. John Arnold, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Loughborough University, developed the prototype. It had 80 questions which were organised into 20 groups of four.

Professor Arnold then got together with Lucy Standing at Brave Starts, which provides career support for over 50s, and Maggie Evans from change management specialists Mosaic Consulting, to develop a version which is quicker and easier to use for Brave Starts members and has additional information and ideas. The result is the What Next? Tool. It comprises 20 questions and takes four minutes to complete.

Sustainable working

The questions are grouped into five broad themes: qualities of current work, sustainability of current work, managing your career, psychological resources for change and wider life context.

They cover everything from whether an individual feels valued at work, is happy, feels they will be able to handle the demands of their job in the future and feels they can flex their job to suit their needs to whether they have a good network of contact, are in good health and feel financially confident for the future. For each question participants rate themselves on a scale and the tool provides a score out of 100, each question giving a score out of five as well as supporting information. This looks at some of the reasons a person might have answered in the way they have, for instance, they may feel less able to manage the demands of their job because of issues with the physical or mental requirements of a job or because of their own internal barriers, including a lack of confidence and ageist stereotypes.

The supporting information also suggests steps that individuals can take to address some of the issues, such as asking for reduced hours or seeing if they can focus on aspects of their job that play to their strengths as well as whether they might think about a job change.

Early data from those who have used the tool shows curiosity to try new things is high [although it should be borne in mind that those coming to the Brave Starts site are probably more likely to be looking to change direction]. The biggest concerns have been around whether they feel their job can keep them engaged and stimulated in the long term.
The team plans to develop the tool further in the coming months. The potential for it to help kick start conversations about future working – such as midlife MOTs – is clear, with the Government recently announcing midlife career support for Job Centres and pilots with employers. Professor Arnold says it could be used by both employers and individuals.

“We have tried to cover a very broad remit using a few questions to investigate what users need,” he says. “We hope the tool will help people think ahead in a structured way and provide a starting point for coaching or career planning conversations.”

*To take part in the What Next? Tool, click here. To get the results you will need to become a member of Brave Starts, but it is free to join.

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