Workingwise.co.uk's annual survey was published last week and shows that a high number of...read more
workingwise.co.uk speaks to Lisa Edgar from Saga about her views on the multi-stage working life and how we make the workplace work for all ages.
Lisa Edgar is Group Chief Customer Officer at Saga, which focuses on serving the needs of those aged 50 and over. She also leads an agency that has a strong expertise in helping organisations including Saga understand and fulfil the needs of its older consumer base and employees/target employees so she sees the age issue from both consumer and employer perspectives. She will be speaking at an employer event for National Older Workers Week on best practice in age diversity next week. She spoke to workingwise.co.uk about what Saga does for older workers and why age diversity matters.
workingwise.co.uk: You’ve done so much work into what older people want as consumers and employees over the last decade or more. What is the thing you think most employers struggle with when it comes to age diversity?
Lisa Edgar: I think we have come a long way in just the last couple of years. We are now talking about age, or importantly life-stage, and what happens to us as we age, what we want and need as we get older and how that might manifest into employment conditions, work environments and products and services.
From an employment perspective we are talking about the structure and flexibility of working hours, where/how people want to work, we are recognising the need to contribute to society outside of work and we are reflecting in our policies that it is not simply mothers that have a focus on family, but fathers and grandchildren too. All of these are key to diversity in general, but age diversity in particular.
More specifically, at Saga we provide hybrid working, part-time work, flexibility of hours, paternal and maternal leave as well as being the first, I believe, to introduce grandparents’ leave. We have a thriving community programme too with volunteer days. Flexibility in hours and location of work is more important as you age because we know that as we age, and particularly as we get into our 50s and 60s we might not want to leave work completely, but we might want to combine it with other burgeoning interests or engagement say in community or voluntary work. We also see colleagues becoming grandparents on average in their early 60s, so we want to give them the flexibility and scope to enjoy that role.
What I would like to see us as employers consider next is what and how ageing changes what we want from work itself and how we can reflect that in work/task structure, team structure and management style. We know that as we get past our late 40s we start to want different things from work, life and well-being. We start to value more emotional goals and start to de-prioritise more rational or acquisitional goals. We can see people in their 50s, 60s and 70s very heavily engaged in voluntary work and supporting others. In other words, they are doing work into older ages, just not getting paid for it. So the question is, if we want people to stay in work, how do we reflect that in what we are asking of people, how we motivate them and how we recognise them. I think this is the next step. For instance, can we create intergenerational groups with older mentors, how do we value experience and encourage its passing on….?
WW: You started at Saga last year – what do your dual roles involve?
LE: I started at Saga nearly two years ago. I am the Chief Executive Officer of the Big Window, a leading insight company that Saga purchased in early 2022. I am also the Group Chief Customer Officer at Saga. For the former, I lead an agency that has strong expertise in helping organisations including Saga understand and fulfil the needs of their older consumer base and employees/target employees. For the latter, I lead the insight, brand and customer experience areas of Saga. Essentially, my role is to develop the more advanced understanding of consumers as they age and go through different life-stages such that Saga can uniquely serve them. As part of that we are seeking to change the conversation on age from something that as we know has been typically pejorative to something that is sought after and respected for the amazing time in our lives that it can and should be.
WW: How has Saga been using your insight as an employer? What is it doing to improve age diversity as an employer and advocate for it?
LE: We have absolutely embedded our insights into ageing with our colleagues. Essentially, we want to ensure that every colleague is completely confident that they understand the needs of our customers as they age so they can reflect that in the way they serve and communicate with them. To do this my team designed and led a Basics of Ageing training programme looking at our customers’ perspectives on ageing, through the mouths of our customers themselves.
We explored different types of ageism, including well-intentioned but benevolent ageism. We looked at how people change as they age, but how that brings needs and opportunities, not problems. The programme was digital, but it was supplemented by team leader-led discussion and in-person workshops for more senior colleagues. Over 90% of our colleagues have completed the training. The engagement levels were remarkable. We are delighted. And we hope it is part of attracting colleagues as well as communicating what customers need.
WW: What more do you think needs to be done generally to get age diversity and its importance for longer working lives higher up employers’ agendas?
LE: It is well accepted that longer lives combined with a low birth rate is not just a problem for the UK, but across the world more generally. I have recently been at the science summit for the UN General Assembly in New York talking about this very subject with experts and stakeholders from India, US, Canada, Europe, South America and the Far East. The notion of retirement has to change. Not only do we need people to work longer to face into the over-burdened Old Age Dependency Ratio, but people themselves now want to have and retain purpose into much later in life. Retirement will no longer be a cliff-edge, people will combine purpose and pleasure in equal measure. Work must be capable of reflecting this, but we need champions in Government, throughout Industry, and in leading organisations.
I’d like to see a leading appointment in Government to look at the third quarter of people’s lives. I am a little wary about being an ‘older age Minister’ – our customers and indeed colleagues talk to us about being old coming after you have retired. I am not sure what that means in nomenclature – but that is perhaps the first thing to understand.
WW: Is it also about improving the type of jobs that are available – there is some suspicion that the push to get people to stay in work longer or return to work from health etc problems will end up with people doing low paid, unchallenging jobs?
LE: I think it is about having a range of job opportunities to suit different types of people. It is perhaps about making all jobs appropriately challenging and purposeful. I agree we would want to ensure we retain the experience, knowledge and judgement abilities of people right into their 60s and 70s. One of the most valued and frankly sharpest members of my team is in her 70s; she is probably still one of the best financial services researchers in the UK. Even better she knows what it means to make so-called retirement decisions. We know how and how much she wants to work, and what motivates her and we shape the offer around that. This can be achieved, of course, on a larger scale too. But some people do want less, let’s say, taxing roles; that might be an active choice – I don’t feel we should assume that these demean or devalue – if they suit the individual.
WW: What about the generation below the over 50s – does there need to be more focus on retention, health, workload etc there?
LE: Yes, of course. We know that habits and behaviour become entrenched way before we reach our 50s so giving people the tools to maximising their financial and health well-being as early as possible is key. We now think much more about life transitions and stages on the way to the 100-year life. Preparation for longer life doesn’t just happen at 50 or 60, it happens at 20 and 30 and even before.