Opinion: retirement move opens age debate

first_img Previous Article Next Article Opinion: retirement move opens age debateOn 20 Feb 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Governmentproposals to abolish compulsory retirement at 65 put the issue of ageism underclose scrutinyThenature of retirement needs to change to reflect the evolving shape anddemographics of the 21st century workplace. There is nothing new in this.Members of the Employers Forum on Age have for a number of years campaigned forflexible retirement. Lastweek’s headlines announcing government plans to scrap the fixed national age ofretirement is part of this debate. The wide media coverage is encouraging, notjust because it raises awareness of forthcoming legislation on agediscrimination, but also because it creates a public debate about retirementages that desperately needs to be heard. TheUK economy can no longer afford the culture of early retirement that has builtup since the 1980s – and many individuals can no longer afford to retire intheir 50s, even with a modest occupational pension.Removingmandatory retirement is not impossible. It has been done successfully in NewZealand and the US after a significant period of transition. To date we haveheard nothing to suggest that UK employers would not be allowed the sametransition period to enable them to adjust policies and manage employeeexpectations and culture.Abolishingmandatory retirement at 65 requires extensive discussion with employers,because it signifies a major shift in the way many run their businesses.Managingthe process of retirement sensitively should not be considered impossible.Enlightened employers are developing policies that allow staff to continueworking for as long as they wish and are able to do the job. Well-designed andeffective management and appraisal systems should overcome most concerns.  Someemployers may think abolishing mandatory retirement will impact on theirability to manage a flow of new employees into the workforce. They may alsoargue that they will be forced to tackle declining performance in olderworkers, whereas before they may have taken a less stringent approach in therun-up to retirement. Butthe EFA notes that employers – particularly the larger ones – should be able tomanage the size and balance of their workforce as well as the performance ofall employees, irrespective of age.TheEU employment directive does allow exceptions within domestic legislation, andover the next five years we need to have a comprehensive debate on wherediscretion is appropriate. Ageis never going to be a simple discrimination issue. It affects everyone atdifferent stages in their working lives and while it should not be used as aproxy for performance, we must acknowledge that as people become older theirexpectations and ability to do some types of work changes.Workingculture also needs to change. Today’s workplace is characterised by “burn-out”at 50 and the demand by many employees to get out as soon as they can affordto. With serious skills shortages, and fewer young people coming into theworkplace, this is an unsustainable situation.Beforethe debate on extending working lives commences, we need to get the issue intoperspective. Not only are there strong social and economic reasons forencouraging people to work longer, but many individuals who have passed theirnormal retirement ages are still perfectly able to fulfil their duties. Thereis no rational reason to exclude them from employment. Theconcept of retirement at 65 was created in very different circumstances tothose that exist today. People are healthier, live longer and the workplace isless physically demanding. Peoplehave children later and at 65 may still be putting them though university orpaying a mortgage. Flexibility will suit most individuals and employers – weare not talking about forcing people to work to their dying day.Allowingpeople to retire when they choose presents a solution to the economics ofdemographic change that will suit employers and individuals. The key to thesuccessful abolition of mandatory retirement is flexibility and choice. Itis clear there are numerous issues to consider before mandatory retirement canbe abolished. But the EFA is delighted that this very debate sends a clearsignal that individuals have a valuable contribution to make beyond 65.SamMercer is the campaign director of the Employers Forum on Age [email protected] Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more