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Over 50s and retirees want to work more, so long as it’s flexible

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A lack of flexible job opportunities is keeping over 50s out of the workforce and preventing retirees from returning to employment according to a survey.

Insurance giant Zurich UK found nearly one in five UK adults over 50 were deterred from applying for new jobs because of a lack of flexible working opportunities.

Zurich found that less than a third of UK vacancies offered any form of flexible working, including hybrid working, compressed weeks or nine day fortnights.

The insurance company claimed availability of flexible working opportunities would keep 34 per cent of over 50’s would stay in the workforce for longer – and a further 28 per cent could be tempted out of retirement if they simply had the option to work from home.

Despite this, data from Timewise showed that only 12 per cent of job vacancies in the UK offered part-time hours and many of these are much lower paid roles.

The same report found that just 30 per cent of UK job vacancies advertise some form of flexible working such as remote working, home working or part-time hours.

This comes after the Bank of England voiced concerns that a marked rise in economic inactivity among the over-50s could hold back growth, with 386,000 leaving the workforce since the pandemic. The new findings from Zurich suggest that less than a quarter of this age group have adequate savings for a comfortable retirement

Meanwhile a recent House of Lords committee found that early retirement was the key driver of economic inactivity in Britain.

The Government recently announced a £70m support package to address the exodus, and Zurich’s research indicates efforts could be bolstered if flexible working opportunities were available from more employers.

The over 50S will benefit from changes announced in the Spring Budget set to be delivered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Measures include increasing the number of people who can access the Mid-Life MOT offer via their local Jobcentre and a new digital Mid-Life MOT that will be introduced to help older workers understand what their employment choices mean for the long-term and their finances.

Pay and flexibility important for over 50s

While pay is a significant factor for nearly a third (32 per cent) of people in encouraging them to unretire, flexibility at work appears to hold equal weighting (31 per cent).

Timewise’s research found that 8.4m of those who work part time, do so out of necessity due to ill health, managing disabilities or caring for relatives.

Zurich’s study showed that for more than one in five people, ill health or disability has been the catalyst for retirement, as well as mental ill health for a further 16 per cent. Caring responsibilities were also a trigger for 16 per cent of those surveyed; this figure rose to 26 per cent for those aged 50-55, suggesting this cohort may be sandwiched between caring for different generations.

With many businesses struggling to fill vacancies, nearly a third of older workers (30 per cent) believed that companies do not welcome their skills and experience. Nearly one in four also said that a workplace culture where they feel valued and welcomed would encourage them to extend their working lives.

Steve Collinson, chief HR officer at Zurich UK said: “More than one in four of our UK employees is over 50 and we know that for them, flexibility is key.  We’ve been a flexible working employer for over a decade and all new roles are advertised as being available on a part-time or job-share basis.

“The feedback we hear is that people want to carry on working, but in a different way.  Our people tell us that they have other needs such as caring responsibilities, but they also want balance and time off for hobbies, volunteering, or travel. Our policies factor this in and include wellbeing and mental health support and more recently menopause. “

Minister for Employment, Guy Opperman MP said: “Older people have a lot to offer, and we know that being in work provides financial security while growing the economy.

“That’s why we’re helping more older workers by removing barriers, encouraging employers to offer flexible roles, and bolstering the tools over 50s need to stay in or return to work.

“Investment is key to supporting adults of all ages back into employment and gives businesses the skilled workforce they need to become more productive.”

Dr Carole Easton OBE, chief executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “If employers want to address their skills and labour shortages, then they need to take an open approach to flexible working. We recommend employers advertise all roles as flexible for everyone, for any reason, where possible and also make clear that flexible, hybrid or remote working is welcome from day one, rather than on request. It is also vital that employers support line managers to develop and manage a flexible working arrangement that works for employer, manager and the organisation more broadly.

“Some employers are already showing they truly value the vital contribution that older employees make and we are very impressed with the policies that Zurich Insurance have put in place to support their experienced workers. If other employers want to know how they can create a more attractive work environment for older workers, they can follow in the footprints of Zurich Insurance and sign up to our Age-friendly Employer Pledge.”

Gillian Perry, regional major and complex loss manager has worked in insurance since she was 18 though started working for Zurich during the pandemic.  She compresses her working hours so that she can spend a day a week looking after her two-year-old granddaughter Izzy.

Gillian added: “We go on special trips and I enjoy all of the things with her that I was too busy to notice with my own kids.   I get the very best of both worlds.”

As well as flexibility at work, Gillian talks about a culture of trust, where she is empowered to get on with her job. She comments: “When I think about my own role and the qualities I bring to it, I think life experience is hugely important.  It helps me to build relationships with customers and communicate with them effectively. Sometimes I need to convey bad news which gets easier with age – I’m more relaxed and empathetic. I guess I’ve seen everything from a claims perspective.”

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