Phoenix Group: creating an employee network for later working life

The Ignite network is a space for colleagues of all ages to learn about the issues facing older workers.

Group meeting


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Ignite, an employee network at Phoenix Group, helps colleagues to learn about the later stages of their working life and retirement. But its two co-chairs are careful not to attach any ages to these issues.

“We don’t put a number on it,” says co-chair Peter Tyson. “When we say ‘later working life’ we accept that this means different things to different people. We didn’t want to say that this is just for people in a specific age bracket, as that didn’t feel very inclusive. We wanted to help all colleagues plan for their later working life.”

Ignite began as a general employee-engagement network at Phoenix Group, the UK’s largest long-term savings and retirement business. But, across all age groups, the network’s members started to show an interest in learning about later working life and retirement. This organically evolved until it officially became the network’s focus at the end of last year.

“It’s a scary but an exciting time for people when they’re thinking about their retirement,” says co-chair Sarah Fox. “So if you can help people to make informed choices and to start to plan for some of those things, then it helps everybody.”

“People don’t want that cliff-edge of retirement anymore”

Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox, co-chair of the Ignite network

Ignite has around 250 members and hosts regular events. These have included free-flowing coffee mornings with speakers, as well as a more structured learning session on financial planning for retirement. The financial planning session had particularly positive feedback from Ignite members – researching such topics alone can be overwhelming due to the huge amounts of information online.

Tyson and Fox say their members are also curious about the social and lifestyle shifts that come with being retired. They’re keen to learn about the options for “phasing into retirement”, which can mean reducing work-hours gradually over a period of time. They’re also keen to learn about how to stay connected to former colleagues once they fully retire.

“People don’t want to have that cliff-edge of retirement anymore, that seems really scary, where one day you just stop working and then what do you do next?” says Fox, aged 37. She joined Phoenix as a school-leaver and is now Head of Design and Delivery for Customer and Workplace.

“So it’s about explaining to colleagues that there are options, that you can phase in your retirement, you can have flexible working, part-time working. It doesn’t have to be that cliff-edge,” she adds.

Tyson and Fox have enjoyed seeing their colleagues share their experiences and learn from each other – and they have also learned a huge amount themselves. Tyson recalls one Phoenix colleague sharing his story of how he retired, only to realise that he wasn’t ready to stop working. He then returned to work six months later.

“I was struck by the idea that you might think you’re going to retire at a certain ‘milestone age’, like 60, but actually it doesn’t have to be that way,” says Tyson, aged 53, a solicitor by training who is now Phoenix’s Actuarial Change Director. “It’s about when it’s the right time for you…that was a lightbulb moment for me.”

How to co-create an employee network with your members

Peter Tyson

Peter Tyson, co-chair of the Ignite network

Both Tyson and Fox are hugely proud of the Ignite network, both in terms of its impact and its member-led approach. Ignite will stay focused on later working life unless another topic organically bubbles up from the members. So, what advice do they have for anyone who is thinking of setting up an employee network?

“Find a small group of people who are passionate about it…and then let it grow organically, don’t force the conversation,” Fox says. “Listen to your colleagues, to what’s important to them, and that should inform your action plan.”

Tyson agrees that “co-creation”, rather than simply making top-down decisions, is the key to success. “You need to talk to people, to share and co-create, it really does mean something,” he says.



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