Work and retirement redesigned

A webinar by Mercer and the World Economic Forum yesterday highlighted the urgent need for employers to take more heed of the ageing workforce and implications for future ways of working.

Smiling woman at work desk on phone


Employers need to urgently engage with the implications of an ageing workforce and look to develop new models to support them, a webinar heard yesterday.

The Models to support the new normal: work and retirement redesigned webinar yesterday organised by the World Economic Forum and HR consultancy Mercer heard that Covid-19 will only accelerate current trends which will mean many will have to work for longer than anticipated.

There are advantages for employers, said Andre Belelieu, Head of Insurance & Asset Management at the World Economic Forum, as older workers had high levels of emotional intelligence which is precisely what employers are increasingly looking for in a world of automation. The problem is that corporate culture has not sufficiently anticipated how much the workforce has aged in recent years.  In the 1990s, the 55 and over age group was still the smallest cohort; soon it will become the biggest part of the workforce. Many people will need to work longer and many will want to, said Belelieu.

The World Economic Forum has been working with Mercer for over six months to bring employers, policymakers and healthcare and financial experts together to think through different scenarios for our ageing workforces. They have held a series of regional meetings after an initial meeting in Davos, working with scores of organisations. Based on design thinking they have been asked to think through retirement planning and how people’s financial wellness can be assured when they retire. “The goal is to build awareness of the urgency of thinking this through,” said Belelieu, adding that the meetings represent a call to action for different groups, including employers, policymakers and individuals.

“There is so much to be done and we are just scratching the surface,” he stated, saying employers had not yet adjusted their mindset to take in the changes coming down the line. Some of the key recommendations included the need to find new ways of working and earning, to embed mid-life MOTs to support older workers’ career progression and retirement planning and the need to redesign career coaching, flexible working, learning and benefits packages.

Retirement redesigned – a new flexible retirement plan

Yvonne Sonsino Global Co-Leader Next Stage at Mercer spoke about how important it is to look at what individuals and employers need. Individuals’ number one priority is flexible working. They also want quality work while, among other things, employers want the best talent at the right cost and the ability to scale up and down, she said. Sonsino outlined Mercer’s thoughts on a new flexible retirement plan. Currently, she said, flexible retirement plans tend to be fairly informal and ad hoc which can lead to inconsistency and potential unfairness, although there is not much data around what is the norm. Mercer is looking at ways to make the process smoother and add more certainty to succession planning. Flexible retirement also tends to be viewed as a ‘treat’ for certain employees and not typical, often involving a gradual reduction in hours.

Mercer wants flexible retirement to be seen more holistically as not being just about reduced hours or where people work, but also about the tasks they do [and how these might be affected by automation] and about who does the work, for instance, whether it could be project-based gig work as people approach retirement. Mercer is also keen to ensure that the process of retirement is smooth and that knowledge is transferred to others in a team.

Sonsino talked about the need for a personalised approach to flexible benefits, the need for a training allowance, possibly a skills coach, life events check-ups and a skills exchange within organisations where people can be matched to projects the business needs to complete. One possibility Mercer is looking at is the need for a talent pooling consortium of different employers where they could share the challenges they face as the workforce ages. Sonsino said better planning led to better outcomes and she encouraged employers to pilot different approaches, saying Covid-19 had opened up new ways of working. Policies needed to keep up, she stated.


In the Q & A section, Professor Andrew Scott from  London Business School spoke of the need to bear in mind the diversity in how people age and in their career paths generally, saying a one size fits all approach doesn’t work and he warned that many individuals were not ready for the impact Covid-19 was likely to have on their gradual retirement plans in a world where unemployment was higher.

Placid Jover Vice President of HR Latin America at Unilever, said he envisaged a smaller core workforce surrounded by a bigger outer core of project-based workers. “It will be about how we access talent rather than how we own talent,” he said. Morag Lynagh, Global Future of Work Director at Unilever emphasised that only some types of work would be open to a gig-style approach. Unilever’s experience of its U-Work, U-Renew, U-Train programmes showed that demand was there for more flexible ways of working and that people were good at finding work opportunities. Jover added that there was scope for the creation of a new HR role of contact manager or talent agent to manage supply and demand of project-based work and help external workers to navigate it.

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