Debi O’Donovan: Older staff will need some benefits TLC

Let’s raise a cheer for older people in the workplace. Or whatever you consider ‘older’ these days (let’s say it is those we were throwing onto the retirement heap at the age of 65 just a year or two ago).

Turns out that keeping such folk at work for longer is often good for both them and their colleagues, as long as their work is fulfilling and not drudgery.

Cognitive neuroscientist and business improvement strategist Dr Lynda Shaw points out that staying in employment can help you age more healthily because it instils self-worth and value, against possible depression and the sedentary lifestyle that can be associated with retirement. I do not know Dr Shaw, but she raises an intriguing alternative way of thinking to the “If you don’t save for a pension, you are doomed to work until you die” school of thought.

Given that the UK is in full flow with rolling out auto-enrolment to all its workers, now is a good time to create a new vision for staff of what they are really saving for.

That vision will differ for each individual. For some, it will be to retire 100% at a set age; for others, it will be to work full-time well into old age; and for many, it may be to work flexibly as they wind down.

This is a major cultural shift and will take more than a few employers sending out the message to get the nation to change its attitudes. But that shift has started. In November, research from insurance firm Canada Life Group, conducted among 1,635 people, showed that 35% believe they will work past the age of 65.

This is important because the Office for National Statistics’ Pensions trends figures, published in February 2012, show people are working longer than they used to. The average age at which people leave the labour market rose from 63.8 years to 64.6 years for men and from 61.2 years to 62.3 years for women between 2004 and 2010.

But there is a potential sting. The ONS also reports that in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, UK men at age 65 had 9.9 years of healthy life expectancy compared with 17.6 years of life expectancy, while UK women at age 65 had 11.5 years of healthy life expectancy compared with 20.2 years of life expectancy.

It is time for pensions and wellbeing people to sit down together and have a serious chat about pensions, health and wellbeing and how the two interplay during and after work.

Debi O’Donovan, Editor

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