survey in depth

National Older Workers Week, sponsored by Phoenix Group, kicked off with an overview of the findings of’s extensive annual survey, covering everything from Covid and the cost of living to economic inactivity and unretirement.

Older workers, team unveiled the results of its National Older Workers Week survey at an event yesterday. Below is a digest of the results which were followed by a panel discussion analysing the wider implications.

The survey* took place between August and October and garnered 2,107 responses. Many of the questions in the survey, which was sponsored by Santander Consumer Finance, were similar to last year’s so can track any changes over time, for instance, problems with ageism in the recruitment process, but there were new questions included on the cost of living crisis and questions about the impact of Covid were adjusted to reflect changing circumstances. There were 65 questions in total with some aimed specifically at people who were in employment or looking for work.

Those taking part were aged 45 to 65+, with the majority being in the 56-65 age range. 55% were in work, 8% were self employed, 3% were both self employed and in work, 22% were looking for work and the rest were not in work or looking for a job.

Cost of living crisis

The cost of living crisis has dominated discussions about work of late with financial wellbeing being a significant concern for many employers. Looking at the changes since last year, the survey showed how many older workers are struggling in the cost of living crisis, with 30% saying they do not have enough income for basic living costs.

Asked if the cost of living crisis had changed their retirement plans, 46% said they will have to work longer due to cost of living pressures, 9% will have to unretire and 7% will have to work more or change jobs. Only 34% said their retirement plans would not change. This is in line with other reports which show how the cost of living has affected people’s retirement plans.

There is widespread concern that many of those who retired early during the pandemic may now or soon need to get back to work, which means employers will have to be aware of their need for support, both as a result of ageist attitude in the recruitment process and as a result of getting back to work after a career break.


Covid has had a big impact on older workers and long term ill health is the main reason for the UK’s rising economic inactivity figures. When it comes to Covid, 34% say their physical health has deteriorated over the course of the pandemic [21% say this is due to Covid itself while 24% say it is due to NHS backlogs; 55% gave other reasons such as cancer, other health issues that have cropped up, etc]. 44% say their mental health has deteriorated.

Age discrimination

One of the issues that comes up regularly is that many older workers feel they have been sidelined when it comes to training, with assumptions being made that they don’t want to or can’t learn new skills. 54% of older workers said they had had training recently, but a quarter of those who hadn’t said training was prioritised for younger workers. 66% who had had training said they found it useful.

The survey also shows a big appetite for change – 51% want to change career and 90% say they are open to learning new skills.

We also wanted to look at the time it took older workers to find a new job if they had changed jobs and whether ageism or perceived ageism played a part.  Of those who have moved jobs in the last five years, although the majority [31%] took a month to find a new role, 26% took 1-3 months, 19% took 3-6 months to find a new role, 11% took 6-12 months and 13% took over a year. 37% of those who found it difficult to find a new job said age played a part versus 11% who said it didn’t. The rest were mainly don’t knows.

Of those currently looking for work, 27% had been looking for over a year. 69% said the length of time had dented their confidence. It is therefore critical that employers and policymakers intervene early to ensure people who want to get back to work as quickly as possible can.

Ageism was reported in both recruitment and other functions as well as the general workplace environment.  Only 19% of older workers had been promoted in the last five years and 30% felt excluded from office social chat and events.

56% said they had encountered ageism in the recruitment process [versus just 16% who hadn’t] and 45% of those who had encountered ageism in the recruitment process said they had left out their age and altered their cv to get around ageism.

When it came to ageism in the recruitment process they were asked to pick all that applied: 54% said they encountered it in the application process, 30% in job adverts and 33% at interview. Many felt neglected and undervalued. 71% said the soft skills gained through years of experience of life are not valued by employers. This led to demotivation and disengagement.


63% would like to take early retirement [48% due to dissatisfaction with their job and 34% due to health issues, 13% due to caring responsibilities and 15% because they can draw down their pension early. Other reasons included wanting to travel and being bored in their job.

74% who want to retire early can’t afford to. 10% said they didn’t know and just 16% said they didn’t want to.

Economic inactivity

Economic inactivity has been a hot topic since Covid with reports looking at the possible causes of steep rises in the number of older workers dropping out of the workplace. Long term health issues are key, but research shows that, for many of those who dropped out around the time of Covid, health issues were not the reason they left, although they now find themselves with health problems.

In our survey, 14% of older workers said they were not in work due to health reasons, 1% due specifically to Covid, 29% due to retirement, 12% for caring reasons, 8% due to needing time out and 43% for other reasons, including bereavement.

Asked the crucial question about whether they would need to return to work or could be tempted back, 37% of those who have retired said they might. 32% said they couldn’t and 31% said they didn’t know.

One of the key ways employers could tempt people back is through greater availability of flexible working, including part time working and working from home. Asked what might make them consider staying in work longer, beyond retirement, or returning to work if they are already retired, 62% of older workers said greater flexible working, compared to 51% who said being valued more, 43% who said higher pay and 38% who said a good employer benefits package.

Moreover, 85% say what they want from work has changed since they were younger. 73% said they want more work life balance. 44% said they are less focused on career progression. 45% said the working environment is more important to them now.

For 45% flexible working is a deal breaker in a job.  Meanwhile, 66% of older workers said they would like to reduce their hours, but 41% can’t afford to. 44% would consider a job share [only 2% actually do one].

Case studies

Alongside the survey we have conducted some in-depth interviews to tease out the complexity of some of the issues facing older workers.

Isaac, for instance, is 58 and runs a consultancy in London that advises start-ups on how to find investors and raise capital. His work has slowed down a lot since the Covid pandemic, which has made it far harder to cope with rising prices – his rent is up by £100 per month and his energy bill has nearly doubled. He has also been suffering from depression and anxiety this year, which affects how much work he can do. He says he can’t move home as his son attends a local primary school and it’s not a good time to move him.

In order to save money, Isaac hasn’t turned the heating on since last winter. As the weather gets colder, he will prioritise using the heating on the days that his son is there – on the other days, he will use it as little as possible. He’s buying “lower quality” food at the supermarket to reduce his grocery bills. And he’s had to wait for six months to get NHS therapy for his mental health issues.

Isaac enjoys working and he always imagined that he would work into his late 60s or even 70s. Over the past month, he has started looking for staff roles, as he’s been finding self-employment too erratic, but he’s finding that application processes are tailored towards workers aged 20-40 and he feels unsure about his chances.

He states: “It’s nothing explicit…but you can see straight away on jobs boards that the whole application process assumes a ‘regular’ career trajectory, which may well apply to someone between 20 and 40. But life gets more complex after that. And for umpteen reasons, there’s all kinds of irregularities, career breaks, interruptions. And there’s no way of conveying that that’s not a sign of unreliability. The standard two-sided CV, which talks about regular employment and doesn’t enable you to nuance anything, is hopelessly unfit for purpose.”

Another interviewee shows how both employer and employee benefit from retaining older workers.  From modelling to financial services, Rhoda James has had a wide-ranging career in her 77 years and is still going strong as a financial support adviser at Santander Consumer Finance. That varied work – and life – experience have been a boon when it comes to dealing with chasing people who are in arrears with their payments – something that requires a supportive, but firm touch at a time of economic crisis.

She started working for Santander Consumer Finance in 2012 and stayed there until 2017 when she and her partner moved to Somerset. But by the time Covid hit she was back looking for work and in May 2020 she was accepted back into the Santander fold on the same team, working from home on a full-time contract. She has since dropped to a three-day week.

Over the years Rhoda has had to learn lots of new systems and is clearly very adaptable to change. Her many years of working in finance have been put to good use in her current job. Over the years she has developed a gut instinct for those people who won’t pay, but says she is good at ‘plodding on’, “like a terrier”. Rhoda believes having a multigenerational team works really well for employers, with many younger workers being able to help out with technical issues while older ones often know a bit more about how to deal with different customer scenarios. For her, working brings many benefits. They include a sense of purpose and mental stimulation.

Rhoda adds that she loves working for Santander Consumer Finance. “They are very good to work for and very good to their staff. And they bend over backwards for their customers,” she says. She has no plans to retire any time soon and says she got very bored the last time she was not working. “I would like to carry on working for as long as I can,” she states.

Gillian Nissim, founder of, said: “We hope, through National Older Workers Week, to highlight some of the issues facing older workers through the survey and to raise awareness of what needs to change to attract older workers back to the workplace, retain them and ensure they prosper. This is an issue for all of us. As the population ages and amid labour force shortages, we need to look urgently at ways to retain older workers’ skills, ensure they have enough money to support them into their later years and understand better the links between good quality flexible work and health.”

*Full survey results here.

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