We’re all knackered after the last few years, maybe even the last decade or more. Thirty plus years of working is a lot. Just keeping on keeping on is not good enough for many.
There are ads on the radio at the moment about longer working lives. It’s something we clearly need to come to terms with, but, despite all the positivity from some quarters, inwardly it makes many people groan. If they are lucky enough to be in fairly good health, they may still feel in need of a break when they hit their late 50s. Although some may have had career breaks [even if bringing up a family is by no means a walk in the park], 30+ years is a long time to keep on keeping on. Moreover, the last few years since the Brexit referendum have been difficult for many, although the post-2008 period was no picnic for a lot of people either. There is a sense of exhaustion in the air.
I wonder if what is needed for older workers is a greater range of options open to them than working, working part time or not working. Clearly, some won’t be able to keep working longer; others will need to change jobs for physical reasons, but there are a lot who may want a change for other reasons. They may be stuck in a rut; they may no longer find their job meaningful in any way; they may just want to explore new things, including new ways of working. They need time – and the resources – to pause and reflect, but in the general daily life cycle there is rarely enough, if any, time. As they say, though, a change is as good as a rest. Maybe even a short [paid] period doing something completely different would recharge the soul.
Women, of course, undergo ‘the change’ as they get older and there has been a lot of focus of late on the menopause, although much of it has been on supporting those with very severe symptoms in order to prevent women dropping out of the workforce. That is only one particular experience of menopause, however, and it’s important to recognise that just as 25% of women are estimated to have severe menopause symptoms, 25% are said to have no symptoms at all. The rest are in the middle.
Moreover, menopause often comes at a time of other responsibilities, health issues or just coming to terms with not being young any more – even if that can be liberating to a degree. Growing older brings up issues for everyone that can be difficult to confront. For some, it can open new doors. In the new Channel 4 comedy The Change menopause is a springboard for reconnecting to past interests and passions and discovery and rediscovery generally.
It’s something many of us could do with. The chance to take time out from the routine, reconnect with ourselves, maybe learn something new. It could be fun – remember fun? I have a family member going through a horrible break-up at the moment and we organised a birthday online quiz for him the other day. The quiz was all about his life. The aim was simple – to reconnect him with all that he is, to show him he is more than this moment in time. When I do interviews about people’s working lives I enjoy that sense of talking through people’s lives and how they got to whether they are now. Everyone needs that time and space to appreciate how far they have come, most especially after Covid.