As someone with deep experience in the 50+ workplace agenda, there is one organisation that I look to for good practice, experience and the pioneering attitude that is continuing to pave the way.
I first met Alistair McQueen, Head of Savings and Retirement at Aviva plc, when I followed him onto the stage at a MidLife MOT event in February 2020 to do a Brand You Confidence at 50+ Strengths workshop. The event was organised by Claire Lynch, Bath & North East Somerset Council, and it was a real eye-opener.
The room was full of talented individuals, but they weren’t aware of their own abilities. Often experienced people underestimate their own talents and potential, so the strengths workshop is an absolute game-changer.
The statistics and issues he outlined were staggering then. Three years on, post-pandemic, the stats are even more shocking, with 1m fewer over 50s in the workforce following the Great Retirement, and the number of over 50s coming into the workforce is flatlining. It’s clear that whilst Aviva is still leading, others are not following fast enough. We believe other organisations must!
“The ageing demographic is a very current and huge issue, and the organisations that are ahead of the curve on the longevity journey will be able to attract and retain extraordinary talent.”
Successful organisations will be ones who understand, value and leverage workers of 50+. Their employer brands will lean heavily on the value they place on their 50+ workers. They will see and promote these workers as ambitious, aspirational, and critical and a value for all of the five generation workforce.” says Claire Lowson
Paradigm demographic shift…
In 2019, Aviva was aware of the changing demographics that were impacting pensions and saving planning. On average, most people underestimate their life expectancy by ten years – that’s ten years more living to fund. At that point, the situation looked pretty clear: people needed to save more, work longer, or retire poorer.
The Aviva team were interested in how that would play out in their own workforce if that is the real objective. In fact, from an ESG perspective, the right goal was surely to help people embrace a longer, fuller life. With that in mind, they turned their attention to their own workforce.
What they discovered was profound. Within the Aviva workforce in 2019 of 20,000 UK workers:
- 1/3 were over 45, and it was the fastest-growing cohort
- The average tenure was 75 years (equating to 85,000 years of corporate knowledge
- The attrition rate was faster than any other cohort
Together, these figures made the issue a significant shift – from an HR challenge to an FD challenge.
As we race towards a point when we will have more people of 60+ than under 16, the situation is stark – not only do older people need to fund longer lives, but there won’t be enough younger people to fill the roles required.
Aviva’s findings were such as to get buy-in at a government level, and the term MidLife MOT was born.
Surprisingly, they also found that the attrition rate of this age group was higher than any of the younger cohorts, making it a finance issue rather than just an HR concern.
And that was all before the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the UK witnessed a long-term trend of increasing participation in the workforce among individuals over 50. The pandemic saw a major fall-out of 50+ workers, and whilst many now want to get back in, they are not finding it easy.
Many cannot get back in at all. Factors such as an increase in long-term sickness and difficulties in re-entering the job market due to algorithms all are contributing to this decline. Generally, the outdated assumption that people are past their best by 50 is working against both individuals and the society that needs their expertise.
(NB: Our findings are that you have a 70% higher chance of finding a new role via your network than via an advertised role. And we even have examples of people securing a role via their network that they had previously been rejected from. This is a game with its own rules, and everyone needs advice as to how to play them.
As the figures show, with 7m young people coming in and 10-12m older people leaving, the balance has to change.
The Aviva Mid-Life MOT initiative was aimed at challenging ageism and the prevailing mindset that assumed people’s best years were behind them after turning 50.
As older people outnumber schoolchildren, it’s clear we have to change our mindset.
We have to work out how to support ourselves and our infrastructure: with the social care, health care and legal system that longer lives will demand.
We have to challenge the past and show people a new future where they move beyond previous limitations and expectations.
We have to show a future in fact in fact, where age rocks!
Because when change is inevitable, we have to make it good.
Aviva Show and Tell
Aviva has consciously invested in, listened to and communicated to their 50+ in the past 5 years and has reversed preconceptions at an individual and corporate level.
- 50+ workers are telling HR they feel more confident and more aware of the challenges ahead and opportunities open to them
- 50+ workers feel more appreciation of Aviva as an employer
- The attrition rate has slowed, absenteeism reduced
- Participation in training and development has increased and engagement has increased
- FD can see ROI in war for talent
Aviva has proven its credibility in seeking the best for this population – and in demonstrating the huge competitive advantage and individual advantage to be gained from it.
In short: as we know – older workers are proven to be valuable assets:
- They are less likely to call in sick
- They show greater loyalty
- They learn more thoroughly
- Their accumulated wisdom and experience contribute to strategic decision-making and efficient cost management
- They are more likely to cover all bases, ticking not one box but working across a raft of complementary boxes where they see the need.
It’s Anti-Retirement rather than Pre-Retirement
Aviva was clear this was not a pre-retirement course. It was much more about advocating for anti-retirement. As people live longer and healthier lives, the concept of retirement needs to be redefined.
Avia talks about work, wealth and well-being.
To enjoy a longer life, health is imperative – being active, contributing and connected is key. Work is one sure way to achieve all those things – as well as an income.
This is a simple equation that individuals and organisations need to action.
‘Gentelligence’: for the Five Generation Workforce
Meaning and purpose are important to older workers.
They may want more balance and not to work full-time.
They often, and as with childcare, the bulk of this still falls upon women, who want and need flexible arrangements to suit work and life commitments.
Women have to be considered independently. Women over 45 are the fastest-growing cohort of all. And where there is the greatest attrition. The gender pay gap is four times greater at 50+ than at any other time. Women’s pension pots have 39% less in them than men’s.
We need to innovate for a different future – one that works for all generations and all genders.
Innovate to Stay in the Game
With a workforce comprising of five different generations, businesses have a unique opportunity to leverage diverse skills and experiences.
Each generation brings its unique strengths – younger employees bring fresh perspectives and technological expertise; older workers offer historical knowledge and valuable insights.
Embracing this diversity fosters better leadership and increased staff inclusivity. You might consider inter-generational job shares, inter-generational teams, broadening the scope of roles to allow for older workers’ breadth and capacity – and opportunities for them to share and teach.
Older workers possess invaluable wisdom and experience: the concept of fluid intelligence vs. crystallised wisdom highlights how accumulated knowledge and past experiences contribute significantly to better decision-making.
Statistics also show that younger workers prefer to be developed by an older female leader, arguing for their demonstrating inclusive, diverse and empathetic leadership approaches.
These power skills, including leadership, teamwork, communication, productivity, and well-being, are essential in today’s workplace.
These are lessons that need to be learnt. And innovations that need to be tried. The future of work is not the same as work as we’ve known it. We know already that reliance on GenZ to fill gaps left by older leavers just doesn’t work. They haven’t the same experience, commitment and loyalty to match, and there are not enough of them.
Aviva’s Mid-Life initiative serves as a blueprint for businesses and individuals to navigate the challenges and opportunities of increasing life expectancy.
Actively challenging outdated mindsets, investing in the potential of individuals over 50, focusing on mindset, wellbeing and being prepared to try new solutions, companies can unlock a wealth of knowledge and experience – managing a changing workforce AND achieving 21st-century growth.
We have to have a paradigm shift in the way we view longevity, retirement and age diversity in the workforce. Embracing age as a superpower is not just one option but the imperative for a future that works.
Come and talk to me at Career Voyage Ltd, and Claire Lowson, Supermenopause, for some Reframing, Reenergising, Resetting, Refocussing, and Resetting to Sustain Retention and halt the second female talent drain at 50+
Aviva Wittenberg Cos 4 Quarter Lives podcast with Alistair McQueen
Aviva Working Lives report
Reasons over the 50s make the best employees
Source Shut Out, Forced Out and Overlooked, 55/Redefined 2021 report
Sarah started her career in fmcg marketing working as a brand manager on Clover and as an interim manager on Clover (twice) and Quorn. She founded a start-up interim management company in Gloucestershire and that business changed the percentage of women and diverse talent in senior marketing and HR roles. Sarah specialises in attracting, onboarding, developing, engaging and retaining diverse talent into forward thinking businesses to improve productivity, performance and profit. Flexible working and wellbeing play a large part. Since covid-19 wreaked havoc on the job landscape, Sarah has a created an innovative programme to get senior experienced professionals back into work or fine-tune their current role so that it makes happy.