Not retiring: Bringing the generations together

Many of the problems of older age are probably things we should have been dealing with much earlier on in the work lifecycle.

Grandparent and grandson watch tv with popcorn


Is focusing on older workers the best way to tackle ageism? Are we in danger of exaggerating ageism when other factors may be at play in job applications? Is it a good idea to bunch over 50s together when they are not one homogenous group?

These are important questions with a whole variety of answers, it would seem. The focus on ageism ebbs and peaks over the years. There has been an interest in longevity for many decades, but Covid has sparked action by Government in particular, with the constant headlines about older people dropping out of the workforce during the pandemic, although many have since returned voluntarily or because of the cost of living rise. Ageism has come to the fore.

The Centre for Ageing Better’s billboard campaign, Am I ageist?, being a case in point. But ageism can be pronounced at both the top and bottom of the workforce age range. We know from the latest ONS statistics that the number of young people who are economically inactive is rising, with decreases reported in people aged 35 to 64. In part this is because many are studying, but many are also working alongside their studies given the cost of living. Mental health has become an increasing problem, but there are also other barriers to work, particularly better paid work. Are employers doing enough generally to combat these and provide opportunities for younger people to learn on the job? With many people stretched to the max to do their day job, in part because of skills shortages, in part because of creeping extra responsibilities, how much appetite and wriggle room is there to train someone with no experience?

Stereotypes about the different generations exist across the board, with the oldest and the youngest tending to get the worst deal. Boomers is a pejorative term among younger people, meaning people who are past it, with old-fashioned views and who can’t keep up with technology, just as older people often roll their eyes when you mention Gen Z who are blamed for too much focus on work life balance, mental frailty and all manner of other supposed weaknesses. What we need is surely to bring everyone together to confront ageism in all its forms so they can see there is something in it for people at different stages in their working lives.

Then there is the question of ageism being blamed for difficulties in getting a job. Surely ageism does exist in the recruitment process [and everywhere else, including in older people’s internalised attitudes], but are we overplaying that and failing to focus on other things, such as providing proper support to keep up to date with the ever-changing ways of applying for roles these days or ensuring the jobs exist that people who tend not to be as physically capable as they were at 20 can do? While some people in their 70s and over are very active, we cannot ignore the fact that age is associated for many with health and other issues. We have to find practical solutions to those issues and work harder to ensure people do not develop health problems as a result of poor conditions in their earlier working lives.

Combatting the issues that older people face has to be part of a joined-up approach to the whole working lifecycle. Pensions are a particular case in point. This week a report from Scottish Widows focused on young women dropping out of auto-enrolment. That will impact their incomes in many years to come and is likely to mean they have to work for longer. At the heart of all of this is making the world of work better for everyone at all stages in their lives – better paid jobs or at least jobs with rapid progression, more security, more occupational health support, more training with an awareness of the particular pinch points at different ages and stages.

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