Being in good employment beyond the age of 50

March 4th 2016

Blog: Dr Jan Hopkins, Project Manager, Ageing Well in Work.

As the debate continues about delaying retirement following the Government’s  launch of an official review of the state pension age, it is important to re-emphasise  the key messages recently expressed by Anna Dixon, CEO of the Centre for Ageing Better.

Ageing Well in Work is an EU commissioned project undertaken by Public Health England and Greater Manchester Public Health Network (2014-2016).  From the outset the project recognised that being in good employment beyond the age of 50 not only supports financial resilience but also promotes positive emotional wellbeing and opportunities to remain socially connected. We tested the supposition that being in employment is a tool to promote better outcomes in later living. The statistical analysis provided emergent data in England, which provides new evidence on the long-term health benefits of remaining active in good work. Employment in people over 50 functions as a key asset that is strongly determinative of improved health expectancy.

The project recognises that we need to define and embrace new models of positive ageing since everyone benefits from communities and workplaces that promote and flourish with active and visible participation of older people. Equally, we should embrace a wider definition of work and participation, including in other forms of asset or social capital building such as volunteering and civic participation which should be encouraged alongside labour market participation.  There isn’t a one-size fits all solution to keeping someone engaged in work:  we should consider supporting individuals to remain in their current roles, train and support them to take up new roles inside or outside their organisations or support them to make a successful transition out of the labour market to other meaningful engagement in retirement.

Based on the evidence collected from the UK and our field work in Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands, mid-life is a time when health, social and employment opportunities converge. It is  a key point to build resilience and future proof opportunities for later living. However, the evidence suggests that we should be planning across the life course, acting proactively and for the health and wellbeing of employees of all ages.

Ageing Well in Work supports the view that there is more that can be done to optimise the likelihood of keeping individuals engaged in the labour market and work. We highlight the need for positive action in relation to normalising and supporting working with long-term conditions (LTCs). There is a common assumption that individuals with LTCs  need to be protected from the workplace. With the right adjustments, support and attitude remaining in work can, in fact, prevent a primary condition from worsening, co-morbidity developing and individuals becoming socially isolated. Other key factors are supporting carers to remain and return to work, rooting out ageism in the workplace and ensuring that life-long learning is offered, is fit for purpose and taken up by older workers.

In Greater Manchester, 5% of the total workforce aged 50-64 has not worked for 20 years, which suggests that some have not worked from mid-life onwards. Clearly, more needs to be done to ensure individuals who have struggled to get into or stay in the labour market are a priority. The expansion of the Working Well initiative in Greater Manchester, including support for older adults with LTCs, is most welcome in this regard.

Ageing Well in Work highlights an abundance of good practice from northern Europe, but there is still more to be done. It is only when we work together, across the whole system as employees, employers, commissioners and more that we will see true transformation and realise the considerable assets and talents of older people.

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