A champion for midlife MOTs

workingwise.co.uk speaks to Patrick Thomson from Phoenix Insights about his work on midlife MOTs and Phoenix Group’s pilot and rollout of the initiative.

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As we get older it’s important to reflect on where we are financially, career wise and health wise. Midlife MOTs are an opportunity to do just that. Patrick Thomson has been championing them ever since he worked at the Centre for Ageing Better. He’s now Head of Research Analysis and Policy, at longevity think tank Phoenix Insights, which sits within long-term savings and retirement business Phoenix Group, and is keen to spread the word. 

Last month Phoenix Insights brought out a report on the progress of Midlife MOTs with recommendations for Government and an employer guide for how to deliver them. Phoenix Insights is interested from a policy and best practice perspective. Phoenix Group, however, is invested as an employer of 7,000 employees.

Patrick ThomsonPatrick says there is a difference between talking about Midlife MOTs and implementing them and his current role involves both aspects and each has an impact on the other. “The best way to learn is by delivering a Midlife MOT programme,” he says.

Phoenix Group ran a pilot Midlife MOT at the end of last year with 300 of its workers who are over 40. The pilot ran from October to December. Everyone on the pilot had access to a digital Midlife MOT covering wealth, work skills and career as well as health and wellbeing.  The whole thing was optional – forcing people is counterproductive, says Patrick. 

The digital Midlife MOT involves a half hour online assessment and comes out with a list of areas that individuals need to focus on as well as signposting to other information, such as health and support packages and pensions information. On wealth, Patrick says it is more about attitudes to money and to the cost of living crisis rather than an in-depth analysis of spending patterns. “We are quite conscious that we don’t want to be intrusive as the employer. We are not collecting personal data. The whole idea is to develop an action plan and get people to think broadly about their finances,” says Patrick, adding that most people tend to be fairly clued up on one or two areas, but may not have thought about the third area.

“It’s not an instruction manual on how to live your life. It’s a tool to help people, but the action plan is up to them to follow up with,” he adds. “It’s more impactful if they come up with the plan themselves.” 

In person MOTs

A subsection of those who took part in the pilot also went on to do in-person workshops. These were mainly people in their mid-50s and upwards who were closer to planning for their retirement and needed to think more about the details. Patrick says having an in-person option alongside the digital Midlife MOT is more impactful.

The pilot was evaluated by the Behavioural Insights Team who were able to measure it against what they know about good practice and what works in terms of nudging people’s behaviour.

It is not just a useful tool, though. The Midlife MOTs also have a social purpose side to them –  helping retain employees and preparing them for a future when people will generally have to work longer as the state pension age rises.

From September, Phoenix Group started to roll the Midlife MOTs out across the company and the aim is for them to be considered business as usual. The programme is still being adapted and tweaked along the way and it runs alongside Phoenix Flex, because flexibility is one important factor of longer working lives. Patrick says one of the things people tend to do in their later years is not budget for health issues in older age. Flexible working can help retain workers who are not able to work a full week or might need other forms of flexibility for any number of reasons, including health and caring responsibilities. When it comes to factoring in health and the need for more flexible working patterns, Patrick says: “The worst thing we could do is highlight a problem without doing anything about it.”

Patrick says Midlife MOTs don’t have to be limited to older workers and the scheme doesn’t have to be only for the big corporates. Patrick says SMEs might need to do it in a different way, through local authority, the Government, cities or a sector or SME body.  

For Patrick it’s important that employers tailor their Midlife MOTs to their staff and needs. “We have shared our lessons on what makes for a good Midlife MOT but these don’t have to be fixed,” he says. “You can do them in your own way.”

He adds that he would like to see more opportunities for sharing best practice, but he recognises there is still some way to go to increase awareness about Midlife MOTs. “People who might most benefit may be missing out,” he says. “Phoenix Group is already a good employer. We need to widen this out to other groups.”

*Patrick is speaking at Older Workers – Challenges & Insights, the first event of this year’s National Older Workers Week.

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