If as an 18 year old in June 1979 you bought Joy Division’s album, Unknown Pleasures, you could be enjoying its many dark and brooding wonders again while celebrating your upcoming 58th birthday.
Manchester, the home of Joy Division and much other musical brilliance, has now proudly become the UK’s first ‘age-friendly’ city. It joins a network of 500 cities across 37 countries and covering a population of 155 million people worldwide, aiming to adapt to our ageing world.
The World Health Organisation made the announcement earlier this year and following the publication of Manchester’s Age Friendly Strategy,1 which has ‘Economy and Work’ as the first of 12 key themes. It recognises the value that older workers bring to businesses and organisations, but notes the challenges include increasingly being called upon to fulfil caring responsibilities, adapt to life transitions and deal with the onset of common later-life illnesses. A lack of understanding and flexibility on the part of some employers can result in reduced age diversity and years of priceless experience seeping out of the workforce.
And it’s not just the economic consequences that matter. Leaving work involuntarily has a huge impact at both an individual and societal level, increasing the likelihood of later life poverty, which hampers social and cultural opportunities as well as physical and mental health.
In response, Manchester’s ageing strategy has dual objectives: to reduce the numbers of older people leaving the workplace and increasing the rates at which they get back into employment. The economic and social case for supporting older workers by adopting flexible working conditions and recognising and avoiding age discrimination in recruitment, needs to be actively promoted to employers throughout Greater Manchester.
With these aspirations in mind, it’s worth considering what ‘age-friendliness’ really means. How does it fit with our own experience of work? I’m coming to the end of my first six months at BACP, and I’ve been impressed by the importance of staff wellbeing and the clear mission to create a positive work environment that encourages wellbeing and health, as well as productivity. Behaviours and routines that maximise our working days but discourage the extra hours of desk time (that have become commonplace for many people) are evident. By joining the weekly after-work running club, I’ve rediscovered my love of regular exercise that I’d felt unable to find the time for in recent years.
Every so often, life outside work delivers a gut-wrenching blow. A few weeks ago, I was knocked out of my stride by the sudden death of a friend in terrible circumstances. My work routine and relationships played a huge role in getting me through this sadness. Genuine support from my manager, and (although I didn’t take it up this time) knowing that a counsellor was accessible from our EAP, helped greatly and allowed me to continue being productive at work, despite my loss.
Sadly, too many workplaces aren’t so proactive. A report, published in February 2018 by the Centre for Ageing Better,2 highlights gaps in employment practices that, if left unbridged, will force yet more older workers to leave employment before they need or wish to.
As part of our older people strategy, BACP is engaging with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to highlight how harnessing the skills and life-changing work of BACP members will enhance the mental health of older people and contribute to the city’s aspiration to be a world leader in positive ageing. Being an age-friendly city puts an onus on Manchester to introduce, evaluate and showcase best practice that will spread and be adopted widely, hopefully creating a new order that achieves and celebrates age-diverse workforces that benefit us all.
Jeremy Bacon is BACP’s lead on developing a strategy for older people.
1 Greater Manchester Combined Authority. A strategy for an age-friendly Greater Manchester 2017–2020. [Online.] https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/ info/20161/equality_fairness_and_inclusion/118/ improving_the_lives_of_older_people/1(accessed 16 May 2018).
2 Thomson P. A silver lining for the UK economy? The intergenerational case for supporting longer lives. The Centre for Ageing Better. [Online.] https://www. ageing-better.org.uk/publications/silver-lining-ukeconomy (accessed 16 May 2018).