What does flexibility mean in work if you’re over 50?

workingwise.co.uk’s newest columnist Suzanne Noble,  co-founder of the Start-up School for Seniors, argues why employers need to flex more to retain older workers.

Flexible Working


One of the big buzzwords now in HR is flexibility. Post pandemic, many employees seek jobs where they can have a work-life balance and some degree of flexibility over how and where they work.

For those over 50, flexibility is more important than ever. One in five people age 50 and above is an informal carer. Whether that means looking after an elderly parent or a child, this sandwich generation often finds themselves in circumstances where traditional employment no longer meets their needs.

As a result, many leave full employment to discover ways of generating an income that allows them the flexibility they need. That may mean starting a business of their own or finding a part-time job that they can manage alongside their caring responsibilities. While I read of the challenge of retaining workers, I suspect that very little attention is focused on older workers accepting redundancy packages or early retirement to accommodate their informal caring responsibilities.

As someone with the job of helping those over 50 to become self-employed, I’m constantly amazed by the diversity of those who attend our courses. There is no one typical example. But generally, most of our learners have come to us because the options for a full-time role are limited, especially if they require flexible working hours to accommodate looking after a parent or a child or their own health needs.

Many will have sent out hundreds of CVs, receiving very few responses; often, they never make it past HR. Many of our learners would have preferred to stay within their former roles, but were not given the opportunity of taking reduced hours or reduced pay. I suspect it’s easier to let someone go, especially an older person in middle management, than consider how to accommodate their needs so they can remain at work.

Last month a law forbidding employers from asking the age of job applicants came into force in Denmark. The law aims to tackle age discrimination in recruiting. While ageism has played a considerable role in the number of over 50s not being asked to return to work post furlough or not being employed in jobs for which they are suitable, flexibility also plays a part.

As we move into this new world of hybrid working, trying to juggle the demands of the employer and employees, we must consider how to be flexible to attract and retain an ageing workforce. Otherwise, how are those over 50 going to add economic value to society? Where are the forward-thinking employers willing to consider how to meet the needs of their older workers, who have years of lived and work experience that is currently going to waste?

The number of freelancers over 50 continues to grow to the point where it now represents the biggest age group of self-employed people in the UK. Why not consider how this massively talented group of people could help to grow your organisation instead of pushing them out to develop their own?

*Suzanne Noble is co-founder of the Start-up School for Seniors which runs a programme that helps older workers realise their entrepreneurial potential.

Comments [2]

  • Carole Scott says:

    Don’t play down the role of an unpaid carer. We are not doing anything that is “informal”. We can register ourselves with the local authorities. Sorry but the word informal seems to diminish the work we do. It takes skill and great personal qualities to do and it is an extremely important job with little acknowledgement from the majority of society. It’s never recognised as an actual job with genuine skills. It should be.

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