Generation Flex to the rescue?

Jul 18 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Older employees are willing to help defuse the demographic time bomb ticking under British business and offer a solution to the mounting skills crisis by extending their working lives - but only if employers respond to their changing needs, reveals research published on July 18.

Generation Flex, a nationwide study carried out among businesses and employees on behalf of Penna Sanders & Sidney, the UK's leading career consultancy, and the Employers Forum on Age (EFA), the leading campaigner on age issues in the workplace, identifies key employment trends that will shape the future of the retirement debate.

The career life cycle - a new challenge for business

Generation Flex indicates that 85 per cent of employees say their needs change throughout the life cycle of their careers - and a substantial 92 per cent believe their employers should tailor benefits and work arrangements to meet these needs.

The research finds employers are strongly aware that the workforce is ageing and 79 per cent know their employees will have to stay in work longer than they might have wished to accumulate an adequate pension.

But it also finds companies are not yet matching this awareness with action to meet the changing needs of employees throughout their career life cycle. Less than a third (31 per cent) are taking steps to identify the needs of employees at different stages and just a third (33 per cent) are taking, or plan to take, action to address the needs of different age groups in the workplace.

Generation Flex - ready to work but wants something in return

Employees' views on retirement change at different stages in their career. 60 per cent of employees aged under 50 looked forward to retiring before their contractual retirement age, but only 48 per cent of employees aged over 50 wanted early exit.

Of those employees who said they were not prepared to work beyond retirement and into their 70s, more than three quarters (77 per cent) say they would change their minds about extending their working lives if they could work part-time or more flexibly. The most popular options included a shorter working week (80 per cent), part-time work (78 per cent) and benefits tailored to maximising pensions (84 per cent).

But few employees are willing to relinquish responsibility at work as they approach retirement age. 79 per cent wish to keep the same level of responsibility, suggesting a determination to continue contributing to the success of their company.

Sally Davis, Director of Penna Sanders & Sidney, comments: "The career life cycle is a concept that employers have yet to grasp. On average, employees will spend 40+ years working and it is apparent that during this period their needs and priorities will change. The research has strongly shown that the career life cycle is important for employees and by tailoring working conditions retention and attraction of employees should increase. The research also conclusively shows that flexibility of working patterns will keep people employed for longer and call a halt to knowledge 'walking out the door' when people retire."

Sam Mercer, campaign director of the EFA, says: 'The recent development of flexible retirement policies is a great example of employers beginning to develop age smart policies. 86 per cent of employers questioned for this research believe they can encourage employees to extend their working lives by offering more flexible working conditions, particularly around retirement. The Government has acknowledged that more flexibility is the solution to the impending pensions crisis but it needs to act now to change IR rules that make delivering flexibility difficult for employers.'

50 is the new 40

Generation Flex also shows that age barriers in the workplace still exist, with employees stating they believe their career prospects become more limited at 49. Only six years ago research for Penna Sanders & Sidney (Ageism in Employment) found that employees were considered to be "over the hill" at 42.

Sally Davis, Director of Penna Sanders & Sidney, comments: "This Generation Flex research has shown that employers must reconsider their employment policies if they are to keep people working longer. 50 now being the new 40 shows that attitudes are changing, but age should never be a barrier as the experience of older workers pays dividends in today's working environment and Generation Flex will play an increasingly important role in combating our future skills shortage."