Judith Wardell speaks to www.workingwise.co.uk about her work coaching older workers in order to help them make the most of the years approaching retirement.
Judith Wardell has spent many years trying to get employers to prepare for the impact the UK’s ageing population will have on the workforce.
She says many still haven’t fully grasped the demographic changes that we are seeing with more over 50s, but things are beginning to change. She adds that, despite being more numerous these days, older workers often lack confidence and face ageist in addition to practical, physical problems.
And she believes they may need help to be more self aware, particularly about the skills they possess, and to present themselves in a more positive light based on what they can do. When it comes to job search, for instance, she says: “Often older people may not have had an interview for years.” Men in particular can struggle, she states, as they are more likely to have had a linear career and to have worked more solidly in one company and are less able to reach out and ask for help.
Judith, who coaches older workers, came to this line of work after suffering her own mid-life crisis following years in HR, working for companies such as Peugeot and then for the police force.
Following the fall-out from the Stephen Lawrence inquiry she set up her own consultancy business focusing on diversity and then expanded into age-based diversity after the passing of legislation around age discrimination and equality. She ran sessions on demographic changes, making the business case for age diversity. “People came because they needed to understand the legislation and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do, such as not asking a person about their age, but I’m not sure anyone got the case for why age diversity is good for business,” says Judith, who is based in Yorkshire.
She collaborated with other organisations, such as Age UK and the Pre-Retirement Association as well as working on a Department for Work and Pensions project for over 50s, but there was not much interest at the time so she focused instead on leadership and management training.
Five years ago she hit 50 and a former colleague at Age UK got made redundant. They got together to focus on older workers. Two years later Judith was facing a lot of family challenges. Her father had died and her mother was ill. Many of her friends were facing empty nests and didn’t know what to do next. “I reflected on my skills and decided I wanted to carry on working, but in a different way which offered more work life balance,” says Judith.
She developed her own organisation, The Time of Your Life, which is aimed at the many people like her who are “looking for a new challenge or ways to reinvent themselves, are proud of our past achievements but feel they do not necessarily define who we are today and who are too young to retire in the traditional way but want to change their work life balance”.
Judith put a three-step programme together to help people, based on extensive research and she trialled it before launching her business. She now focuses all her attention on The Time of Your Life. She has partnered with financial advisers after research suggested that older people tend to visit a financial adviser if they are thinking about planning ahead. She also did a lot of networking with local businesses and promoted the business on social media.
The financial advisers said they could clearly see a market for what she is doing. Nevertheless, she is still trying to raise awareness and educate people, including employers, about the need to prepare for the years leading up to retirement. “I want people to know that they are not alone and that help is available,” says Judith.
She has mainly been working with individuals, including couples, who have been referred to her in some cases through financial advisers. They include one man who was worried he did not have a plan for the future and did not know who he was without his work. He wanted to retrain and to find a job with real purpose so he could leave a worthwhile legacy behind. Another client who inherited some money also wanted to leave a legacy. “He had never thought about who he was and felt he had not been able to be himself,” says Judith.
She has also worked with a church organisation with ministers approaching retirement. “They often feel quite sad about this. My aim is to make them feel more positive, that this is not the end and that it can be liberating. Often they have not appreciated the skills they have, which are often soft skills. It is like a process of self discovery. I show them how those skills are very valuable in different roles. It’s very rewarding work,” says Judith.
She adds that the desire to do something with a purpose is something that is very prevalent among many of the people she works with, although that purpose will vary according to different people’s backgrounds and personalities. “You want to find that sweet spot between something you love and are good at and what the world needs. All my clients have a sense of not wanting to waste the time that is left,” says Judith.