In 2021-22, we interviewed workers over 50 who were trying to find work in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. This summer, we’re seeing where they are now.
In 2021 and 2022, Workingwise.co.uk interviewed workers over 50 who were trying to find work in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. Many felt they were experiencing ageism in the recruitment process, making a tough situation even harder. Our National Older Workers Week in 2021 showed this was a widespread perception.
This summer, we’ve been revisiting those interviewees to see where they are now.
When we first spoke to Sarah* at the start of 2022, she was struggling to find work after being made redundant. She now has a part-time civil service role that she enjoys and that gives her a good work-life balance.
Sarah, aged 64, spent much of her career in managerial roles at universities. She progressed to working on study-abroad programmes, especially the Erasmus scheme for students in the EU. But, after Brexit, the UK was no longer in the scheme and other exchanges also fizzled out. She was made redundant in 2020.
Sarah spent a long time looking for roles. She was offered her civil service job in spring 2023, after a lengthy recruitment process. In the meantime, she got a temporary job at her local council, working on the Homes for Ukraine refugee programme.
When Sarah was offered her civil servant role, she negotiated to work three days a week. She knew she wanted a more even work-life balance than she’d had in full-time roles.
“[Working part-time] just gives you this flexibility,” she says. “I had a very long and very rewarding career, and I was promoted all the time, but it involved taking on more and more tasks, more and more responsibilities. All I had time for was work. I didn’t have time for anything else.”
While she enjoys her new job, she also enjoys being able to spend time with her children and grandchildren. And, most importantly, working part-time means she can look after her 85-year-old mother.
“There just comes a time when you realise that – yes, money is important, yes, a career is important – but I’ve [done] that,” she says. “And now is the time to spend with my family, with my friends, and to do things that I like in my spare time.”
Sarah feels she experienced ageism during her months of job-hunting. She sensed that employers only saw her as a short-term prospect, even though she would be happy to work past the state retirement age. “[I had] a number of interviews but no job offers…In the majority of cases, I think this was because of my age, because I was so close to retirement,” she says.
Over the past year, the government and employers have started speaking up about the need to retain older workers, as the UK population ages and the country faces labour shortages. Sarah says employers who start to hire older workers will find that this creates momentum, as it will attract more workers from that demographic.
“In the civil service…there is no ‘retirement age’ – you can work for as long as you [want]. I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one with grey hair there! Which makes me feel better, you know, that it’s not just young people around me.”
* Name has been changed at interviewee’s request
You can find out about this year’s National Older Workers’ Week here.