Why is it that our society takes its most experienced people, nearing the end of their careers, with the most expertise, and sticks them out to grass on the golf course? I was once asked this question, and while I had no answer, I do recall a weary sense of indignation at the wasted potential of so many people of retirement age. As a woman in her 50s, I think about this increasingly, not because I begrudge anyone a game of golf or how they spend their retirement, but because in my work I bear witness to how, as with all ‘isms’, ageism at work is very much alive and well.
According to the Centre for Better Ageing, a third of all workers are now over 50.1 After hitting peak earning in their 40s, average weekly earnings begin to decline for workers aged 50 to 60, with half of all full-time workers aged 50 to 69 saying their work is excessively demanding.1 Emerging from the pandemic, the prospects for older people who are out of work are even more bleak, as evidence from the last recession shows that people over 50 who do lose their job, are most at risk of becoming long-term unemployed.1
No wonder there are growing calls for the Government to provide tailored support for people in their 50s and 60s to stay in work and thrive. Helen Kewell, a therapist specialising in working with older adults, writes our thought-provoking lead article, Are we ready for an ageing workforce? Persuasively arguing that employers need to wake up to the potential of an organisational elder culture and tap into the experience of the older workforce, Helen identifies how this time in our lives can bring us choice, freedom, growth and ultimately peace.
In both my client work and social circles, I hear of too many people in industry, still keen for new challenges, who first start to experience ageism in their early 40s, when they are repeatedly overlooked for promotion, and their prospects and earnings plateau. Someone, somewhere in the organisation, probably think this is a good idea – but I can’t help thinking how flawed this is, given that a 40-something employee who’s written off on the basis of their age, potentially has another 25 years of work ahead before hitting retirement age.
The American writer and activist Betty Friedan wrote: ‘Ageing is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength’. It’s a sentiment the over 50s so often embrace, as they embark on second or third careers in later life, apparent in my interview with Andy Price, in ‘My workplace’, who, after 30 years as a firefighter, decided to retrain as a therapist.
I hope you enjoy this issue.
Nicola Banning, Editor,