Not retiring: tackling major transitions

Life is a series of big and little transitions so how can employers help link them all up and ease the path for their employees?

Woman smiling interviewing a man sitting opposite her


Life is full of transitions, big and small. In the last few decades as more women have entered and stayed in the workplace employers have focused more on the transition to parenthood. Whereas in the past things like enhanced maternity pay and back to work support were rare, they are now much more common, which is not to say that there isn’t more to be done in that regard.

Employers have long had an interest in supporting graduates and younger people into work. But there has been less attention paid to the later years of working life, which is lasting longer and longer these days. It’s not just about retirement and planning for it, but about retention and progression – whatever that means – and just ensuring people are okay. We know that people in middle age face a huge number of personal issues – from health concerns for themselves or people close to them and caring issues [often both for parents and children or perhaps partners] to bereavement and thoughts about their own mortality. There’s a lot going on and lots of financial issues to think about as well. Dr Lucy Ryan’s book, Revolting Women, outlines the main ones for women, but many are also faced by men.

So why don’t we acknowledge that rather than just expecting people to muddle along? That is where the midlife MOT comes in. A new report out this week from Phoenix Insights looks at the latest thinking on the midlife check-ins. It says midlife MOTs can help to build confidence and shift participants’ thinking about retirement, but they need to be relevant, timely and useful for people to take follow-up action on the back of them. And that need to focus on follow-up action is vital. It’s all very well doing a session, but people may need reminding of what they need to do on the back of the discussions, given that life events have a tendency to crowd out action.

The Government has been trialling some in-person midlife MOTs through Job Centre Pluses and also has an online offering. Critics have said that Job Centre Plus is not going to catch those who have or about to drop out of the workplace and become economically inactive, the people that the Government would most like to reach. The Phoenix Insights report, meanwhile, says online MOTs can be a good starting point, but in-person discussions are better. They allow people to explore their own personal circumstances rather than ticking a few boxes on screen. They are, however, more resource intensive.

Encouraging employers to tailor their own MOTs is one way of getting out to more people, based on best practice examples, but that will be harder for SMEs with fewer resources than the big corporates. The report recommends access to off-the-shelf or open source MOTs in such scenarios. Another thing is getting people to take them up.

Most interesting of all, the report talks about the need for the Government to develop a holistic plan for MOTs and better integrate existing services across different departments, looking at whether similar approaches could be applied to other major life transitions, such as school-to-work transition or parental leave. Over the year it has been good to see how something that started out in the parental field, such as buddies for new parents or back to work support, has been adapted and used in other areas, for instance, for those returning from a career break. There are, as stated above, many big transitions that people face in their lives. We acknowledge these at school – the move into school, from primary to secondary, from GCSEs to A Levels and so forth. Why can’t we do it more at work and join them all up in some way and learn what works best?

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