Features: August 29th, 2008

By Edward Moss

The end of the official retirement age has resulted in many people choosing to carry on working. But there are organisations that continue to insist that people retire at a particular age. There needs to be a greater awareness that the world is changing, people are living longer and there is a greater willingness to continue working. The author describes the benefits that a flexible approach to retirement brings to both employer and employee and gives practical examples of how it works.

With people living longer and many organisations finding it hard to get skilled staff, employers can’t afford to ignore the talent and experience of older employees. Therefore, making it easier for older people to find and stay in work is essential.

However, some organisations continue to insist that staff move aside at a certain age. Many do not realise that there is actually no official retirement age in the UK, and that having a fixed retirement age can have a very detrimental effect on the organisation. What many fail to realise is that losing skilled and experienced staff can prove to be expensive, regardless of organisation size.

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development believe it costs as much as £8,200 to replace each employee who is forced to retire at 65.

Win win for employer and employee

While the ideal solution for retaining talent and experience would be for organisations to do away with any traditional retirement age they may already have in place, taking a flexible approach to retirement is proving more beneficial to both employer and employee. Flexible retirement is easy to implement, leads to increased productivity by making employees feel valued and more motivated, and most importantly, leads to lower recruitment and training costs.

Since 1997, the number of people choosing to work past state pension age, currently 65 for men and 60 for women, has risen by more than one million.

Aberdeen City Council is one organisation that has recognised an age-neutral policy widens their pool of potential job applicants and, according to Richard Parker, Corporate Director of Personnel and Organisational Development, “enables them to retain highly skilled and experienced staff who would otherwise have had to retire. They have found this to be vital for jobs in which they have experienced recruitment difficulties and skills shortages”.

At East Dunbartonshire Council, age does not feature in selection criteria and recruiters are trained not to take it into consideration. Employees are allowed to work beyond the normal retirement age should they wish and their flexible retirement policy, available to all on the Council’s intranet, covers Working Beyond Age 65.

Janette Henry, HR Adviser to the Council explains: “We have always been open to requests from employees who wished to remain in employment beyond the usual retirement age and we have formalised this in a Flexible Retirement Policy. By removing age restrictions, we are able to retain employees whose experience and commitment add quality to service delivery.”

Falkirk Council are another public sector body with flexible retirement policies enabling their employees to continue in employment beyond 65. Their employees can choose to continue in employment in their current status, or apply for a flexible working option, or within a different role or a combination of these.

“Our equal opportunities policy includes age and means no-one is excluded in terms of recruitment, selection and development,” according to Karen Algie, Head of Human Resources. “Our flexible approach to retirement positively recognises the benefits of an older workforce.”

Flexible working arrangements do not necessarily mean working less hours. It’s more about looking at alternative working patterns that will allow staff to meet personal commitments, while at the same time, ensuring that service provision is maintained.

Time to review employment policies

For those who haven’t yet reviewed their recruitment, retention and flexible retirement policies, there are an increasing number of employers who have and can show how it’s done. Their stories can be seen on the Age Positive website – www.agepositive.gov.uk and the Age Positive guide to Flexible Retirement can be downloaded free at www.agepositive.gov.uk/publications/Retirement_Guide.pdf.

If we can change the outdated and ageist practices still followed by some employers then everyone will benefit. We should be developing a culture in which older people are valued in the workplace, where they can continue to develop their skills and where they are given more choice in how they move from work and into retirement.

Edward Moss is the Stakeholder Communications Manager, Age Positive.
EDWARD.MOSS@DWP.GSI.GOV.UK Tel: 0113 232 4444