These days, we can all work as long as we want and have to. But if you’re in the midst of what you thought would be the final third of your career, the idea that you would be working until you were 70 probably hadn’t occurred to you.
That is, until mortgages, pensions and other savings plans went horribly wrong. In the space of a decade we have progressed from early to delayed retirement.
A new meaning to the phrase ‘working late’
What does plugging away for 10 years longer than planned mean for someone now aged 50? And how should younger people starting on their careers plan for the future? Fifty years is a long time to work.
I could speculate about what this means for the majority of manual workers, who must be rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of carrying on physical work into their late 60s. But I’ll leave that for another day.
The traditional career to date has involved starting somewhere at the bottom then progressing to, or just beyond, your level of competence in one or more organisations before retiring. For things to continue this way, the baby boomer generation would be blocking the progression opportunities of their children.
Stepping aside with seniority
If people are to work for another generation, we must consider ‘bell-shaped’ careers – with a significant period after the peak when people feel comfortable enough to step down and allow others to advance.
If you want to stay in the same sector or firm, you might have to accept that someone will move into your current position and line manage you. This will also result in a reduction in your salary and responsibilities, and might require you to re-learn operational skills. For younger employees, it might mean managing your current boss.
Of course, it’s easier if you are able to stay in your current organisation.
How does a fifty-something person convince a prospective employer that they have the enthusiasm, drive and commitment to be appointed ahead of young, ambitious candidates? While legislation outlaws age discrimination, it can’t overcome human nature. If you’re a mature jobseeker, you’ll need to convince a new employer that you’re not just looking for a cosy little role to see out time, especially if you’re stepping down from a more senior position. You’ll also have to persuade them that you won’t undermine your less experienced seniors.
I have recently applied for a number of roles that were paying considerably less than I had earned previously. One employer replied with: “Great CV, good experience – but we think the role really suits someone who is looking to move up to this level. Sorry, but you haven’t made the shortlist”. I was not given the chance to convince them in person. And while this is possibly a breach of the Age Discrimination Act, I don’t want to test that.
Of course, this kind of situation could present an opportunity to move into a completely different type of work. I recently met a former bank manager who’s now employed in an administrative role in a horse riding school. It’s a different, happier phase of his working life and one that was part of his plan. Other people might consider teaching or something similar, for a 5-10 year period part way through their working lives – but not for their whole career. This should be a realistic possibility, but it will require considerable planning by both individuals and employers.
Career advice for all
Career guidance and planning is usually only provided to people when they have been made redundant. It really should be more readily available, to give people in work the chance to think about their real career prospects rather than the next promotion. This means taking time to reflect on their values, motivations beyond just money, and their complete range of skills and experiences.
Firms cannot be expected to provide the support required for someone to review and revise their career plans, and people should take responsibility to seek it themselves – if only they knew where to look. I think that recruitment agencies are best placed to offer this service, and it would generate income, as well as better prepared and focused candidates. Come on guys – why not give it a go?