Mandy Garner, editor of workingwise.co.uk, starts a new blog which will cover the latest news developments, often from a personal perspective.
There is no one homogeneous over 50s group. A 51 year old woman returner is very different from a 64 year old looking forward to retirement and may also be very different from another 51 year old who is seeking to take a step back from their career due to caring responsibilities. Often we get lumped in together, but it’s better than being ignored entirely. In effect, it’s a start that employers are beginning to look at the needs of different employees at different life stages.
I’m in my late 50’s. I was a late starter when it came to children, only having my first in my mid 30’s and my last in my mid 40’s. That means when some of my friends are at a stage where their kids have headed off to university or work, I am still on the school run with a good few years to go. One friend had gone part time in recent years after having a very full-on job in social services only to find that, when her son left to go to university she had bags of time on her hands and a feeling that she was not done yet. So she has just taken on another big job.
I’ve been working ‘a portfolio career’ for the last couple of decades. Over the years it’s consisted of a mix of part-time and freelance jobs which, put together, mean I can work around the kids and end up working full time. When all the jobs are busy at the same time – which is more often than not these days – it amounts to a more than full-time job, but what is full time these days anyway? We know that many people do work on holiday or in the evenings or on the weekends. Many jobs have increased in size due to lack of staff and increasing demands. In my job social media is a beast that only ever grows in terms of its appetite for ‘content’, the more multimedia the better. The desire for work life balance is high, we know, but what constitutes work life balance and the drivers of why we want it are different for everyone, but it’s a response in part to the changing context of work and family life – the intensity of work, for instance, the turbulence of work [over the last few decades, not just now] as well as the intensity of trying to fit family life around it amid problems all around with accessing and affording care.
While the kids are not as practically demanding as they might have been when they were little, emotionally things can be more challenging, particularly in the Covid period and at times of major stress like exams. At the same time, relatives are getting older and some need support. My partner is from Spain so he visits home often to help with family issues.
This is life in your 50s for many – the so-called sandwich generation, which sounds like something fun in the manner of Masterchef but can be incredibly stressful.
Care issues still tend to fall mainly on women, who have often changed their careers earlier on to accommodate children and hence have taken a salary hit and so seem the obvious choice when it comes to the next hit. The long-term impact – on income in old age and independence, which women of my generation and before have fought hard for – is something many of us fear.
Moreover, with the cost of living rising it’s likely many over 50’s will not be able to retire at state pension age. Which is fine if you love your job and is doable if you have health or other issues. That’s certainly the case for me at the moment, but I can envisage wanting to work less or, at the very least, have a sabbatical in order to do something else, such as write a book. At the moment there’s no spare time at all.
Yet being a portfolio worker has its upsides too. I love the variety and each job feeds into the other. It keeps me engaged. I never get tired of talking to people and hearing about their lives and what they do. There’s definitely too a sense of wanting to make a difference and, though I have no spare time, that it also because I plug into things that link to work or children that I feel passionately about.
Moreover, I have more confidence than I did in the past despite a lull during the menopause when I often got to the middle of sentences and didn’t know where I was coming from or going to. That really undermines your confidence if it happens in a busy meeting where you are the speaker. Now I am much less worried about just being myself. If I’m nervous at speaking at events, then I think embrace it. Reference it. People will probably identify, depending on the setting. I’ve done many different jobs and handled many different situations, family-wise. I kind of know what I’m doing now and I don’t need anyone to tell me and if they feel the need to, I kind of know it is their issue, not mine.
As with everything, there are pluses and minuses. Nothing is black or white, only shades of grey – not in a dull, non-committal way, but in a complicated, interesting way based on a whole tapestry of life experience. To grow older is a privilege some don’t get to enjoy. We’re certainly not done yet.