Don’t make the same old mistakes

Baby boomers had it all, didn\'t they? They benefited from exponential house price inflation the like of which my generation is unlikely to see and now they are all retiring early, taking the gap years they never had, exploring the world, returning to long afternoons on the golf course.

Not quite, according to the Trades Union Congress. Over one million 50 to 65 year olds want to work but are unable to because employers won’t recruit them. The myth of the post-war generation retiring in luxury is just that, it says, with only 12% of non-working 50 to 65 year olds fitting the description of “early retired, affluent professionals”. Moreover, only one-third of people retire early voluntarily.

Instead, over one-third of the 2.6 million 50 to 65 year olds who are not working or looking for work say they want to work. And the problem will get worse over the next 10 years with the number of economically inactive people in the same age bracket rising by 17%, massively raising the ratio of pensioners to working people. The TUC estimates that without an extra one million people in work by 2015, workers will face higher taxes and later retirement or old-age poverty.

Calling on the government to defuse the demographic time bomb, TUC deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady says: “Most baby boomers are not retiring early to cruise around the world or go bungee jumping. They have been dumped out of work and are scraping by on benefits or small work pensions.”

“Companies need to ditch tired stereotypes of 50 and 60-somethings and develop age management policies that capitalise on the value of experienced staff by offering retraining and flexible working, and making minor changes for people with disabilities.”

From this October it will be against the law to discriminate on grounds of age, yet many employers could fall foul of the legislation due to lack of knowledge. From then on it will not be OK to pay someone more if they are older, regardless of experience. Turning down a job applicant if their age does not suit a company’s image will also be illegal, as will hiring staff on the grounds of age so that they will fit into a team. Under the law, line managers and employees as well as employers are liable to charges of age discrimination, and things such as ageist jokes can be cited at tribunals.

Times are a-changing. My Dad is well into his 60s, still works and is trekking in the jungles of Borneo to see orang-utans. I’d like to see anyone tell him he’s past his sell-by date.

The point is that by not recognising the mentoring ability, capacity for hard work and knowledge older people bring, companies are missing out. And older people are also less likely to take a sickie on Monday after overdoing the clubbing at the weekend.