Steve Butler, CEO at Punter Southall Aspire, on the importance of midlife reviews for an ageing workforce
The UK's ageing population is changing workforce dynamics. By 2025, there will be one million more people aged 50 and over and 300,000 fewer people age 30 and under in the workplace. One in three of the working age population will be 50 or over[i].
People's ‘working life' is stretching out as life expectancy rises and pension provision becomes less generous, ensuring traditional career structures are becoming a thing of the past. This is a major opportunity for some to enjoy a richer and more fulfilling life, but for others, it means juggling work with care responsibilities.
One thing is clear: when it becomes commonplace for people to work for 50 to 60 years, they are unlikely to stay within a single career trajectory. At some point, they will want to re-evaluate and take time out to pursue other interests or avenues and employers and employees need to prepare for this pivotal point.
Supporting midlife employees
Employers may also need to brace themselves for an exodus of talent and experience, just as the pipeline of younger people coming through dwindles. If it becomes the norm for people in their forties and fifties to temporarily ‘drop out', wind down or retrain, companies will need to rethink their recruitment strategies.
Equally, employees looking for new jobs or to retrain in midlife will need to negotiate these changes with their employer. A major consideration will be how to finance the years ahead if they are going to work less, retrain or return to study.
For all these reasons, the idea of a ‘midlife review' or midlife MOT is gaining traction as the mechanism to stimulate a conversation between employers and employees about next steps, second careers and flexible career solutions.
Companies such as Aviva are strong supporters of the midlife review[ii] and introduced midlife MOTs in 2018[iii] for employees aged 45 and over. Aviva participated in a pilot scheme with Legal & General and The Pensions Advisory Service to carry out midlife MOTs with their staff. The findings, published by the Centre for Ageing Better[iv], indicated that both employers and employees are convinced of the value of midlife MOTs.
What is a midlife review?
Unlike performance reviews, midlife reviews are not concerned with someone's performance over the last period, salary and benefits etc. Instead, they focus on mid- to long-term plans and consider a person's situation holistically: reflecting on their financial situation, work aspirations and wellbeing.
They explore everything that impacts a person's work, and help them gain a clear perspective on what they want from their future - this could mean going part-time, changing roles, winding down to retirement or leaving the workplace entirely.
For an employer, the overriding objective is to retain the talents and experience of older people by identifying the right course to meet their needs and aspirations. If done correctly, the midlife review can mean that the last 10 or 20 years of a person's working life is their most productive and rewarding.
A midlife review simply requires a recalibration of how employers and employees talk to each other, with both sides understanding the other's perspectives in order to plan together.
Considerations for developing a midlife review
There is no ‘one size fits all' approach. A good starting point for an employer is to look at what worked well in other companies and then create a personalised template for their organisation.
Testing the template with a small group of employees before rolling it out company-wide is a good idea. This is especially important for SMEs who may not have the resources available to try out models that have so far only been used by larger corporates.
Whilst the midlife review concept is still in its infancy, those that have piloted the concept offer the following advice for organisations:
• Know your target audience - consider the purpose and intended outcomes.
• ‘Age' is not a fixed concept - consider what age you are targeting the service for.
• There is no ‘one size fits all' for delivery - whether by telephone consultations, face-to-face, group sessions or online tools, consider which format is most applicable and effective for the intended participant group.
• Keep the content focused - a midlife review cannot cover everything; prioritisation of content is important to maintain focus, clarity of purpose and participant engagement.
• The midlife review is a process, not a one-off event - practical outputs, signposting and follow-ups are required to engage and benefit participants.
As a midlife review will cover wealth, health and work, it may be advisable to bring in outside consultants or advisers.Discussing someone's career aspirations and options could be handled by an internal HR department, but if companies are looking to build trust with employees who might harbour anxieties about the motives behind a midlife review, using an outside HR specialist (at least in the initial stages) could prove a good investment.
A midlife review helps employees plan the important second phase of their career and enables employers to work with them to decide how they can best be supported.
The review includes deciding what kind of training or upskilling they might need, considering any changes to working patterns and tailoring the benefits package to suit older workers.
Ultimately, it helps employers to make the most of their existing workforce, to reduce the risk of losing valuable talent and ensure people can enjoy fulfilling careers and continue contributing as much as possible, for as long as possible.
Steve Butler, CEO of Punter Southall Aspire, has co-authored a new book called the Midlife Review: A guide to work, wealth and wellbeing with writer Tony Watts OBE, offering business leaders, managers and employees guidance to help them understand and support ‘midlife' workers.
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