Baroness Ros Altman: Should employers encourage taking retirement sabbaticals?

ros altman

The UK workforce is ageing, and the prevalence of ‘early retirement’ has fallen sharply, as more staff want or need to keep working longer.

This means employers have a great opportunity to retain valuable skills and experience, rather than losing their long-standing staff and having the cost of training and recruitment.

The customer profile of many businesses is ageing, too. There is evidence to suggest organisations benefit from having a mix of age groups in their workforce, which can bring perspectives of different ages or types of customers.

Given the tremendous advances in healthcare, most people in their 60s these days are mentally and physically healthier than ever before, and work itself is less physically demanding, so retaining older workers can be a win-win. Increasing numbers of employees do not want to give up working and earning altogether, and many would welcome the chance to ease into retirement, instead of suddenly stopping.

The organisation-specific and life experience they possess delivers value to employers. Introducing new initiatives, including extended sabbaticals, care breaks, or allowing older workers to work more flexibly, can increase productivity and job satisfaction.

The fact is that 21st century retirement should be different from traditional 20th century models.

Enlightened employers are recognising these opportunities and the different ways in which this period of life before full retirement, sometimes called ‘pre-tirement’, can work.

The most obvious route, with many industries already having flexible working hours, is to offer opportunities to reduce employees’ hours or days of work, as they reach later life.

However, another option is offering older workers a sabbatical. This allows them to take a few weeks’ or months’ break for long-desired travel, then return to work afterwards, full-time or part-time, refreshed and reinvigorated. Some older staff may also need a break to care for or arrange care for loved ones such as parents or a partner.

Indeed, offering sabbaticals is a similar principle to that of maternity leave in allowing staff to have time off, but ensuring they can return to their job.

Many retirees regret having given up work, but their employer has moved on and they never go back. If older staff just need a break, rather than permanently stopping, ‘pre-tirement’ sabbaticals could benefit both staff and business.


Baroness Ros Altman CBE is a former Minister of State for Pensions