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  • Writer's pictureRichard Irvine

LET'S STOP THE BRAIN DRAIN!

Updated: Nov 12, 2022

By Chris Stride

During the pandemic and in its aftermath unprecedented numbers of the ‘over fifties’ have left the workforce and many have not returned. Residing within them is a wealth of experience and institutional knowledge that UK plc can ill-afford to lose. How can we entice this talent back into the workforce?

It is not simply a question of money. Data from the ONS reveals that, amongst those aged 50-65 who have left work since the start of the pandemic and have not returned, a large proportion could be described as ‘financially resilient’. 66% owned their homes outright and 61% were debt free. This group are reasonably confident about their own financial future. 55% of those aged 60-65 stated that they were confident or very confident that their retirement provisions would meet their needs.

In short, these people feel sufficiently secure to be able to make some personal choices over what to do with the rest of their lives.

3rd-Agers enjoy a level of financial security and good health beyond the dreams of earlier generations. Nevertheless, they are also aware that the clock still ticks and that there will come a time when they are no longer sufficiently fit to do all the things that they want to do. So, carpe diem, let us have some more adventures while we still can and, if the culture of the workplace is preventing this from happening, then it is work that has to go.

It is no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has disrupted life in the UK, and indeed in much of the rest of the world, on a scale unprecedented in more than two generations. We have not seen the like since the Second World War. As a fortunate 3rd-Ager who escaped the privations of the War, I would never compare the scale of what we have endured through this pandemic with that which our parents and grandparents went through, but there are interesting parallels; sacrifice, heroism, the nation pulling together stoically in the face of adversity. Out of which, both then and now, as individuals we have taken time to reassess our priorities.

The pandemic was a disruption. It broke the previous default settings of people's work/life balance. Post-pandemic new settings have to be found. Just as Britain in 1945 did not return to the way-of-life of 1939, so too in 2022 we cannot expect to return to the world of 2019.

Working from home worked, not perfectly but it worked. Zoom-style technologies helped link us and helped us to communicate. At the same time we risk losing the camaraderie of the office; the socialising between age groups and disciplines and the creative thinking that can often emerge from it. Also, the abandonment of the office threatens the ‘soul’ of city and town centres.

Management in the post-pandemic world needs to be flexible and adventurous in re-configuring the working practices of their company to reflect a new office/working-from-home balance just as individual employees are already reassessing their own work/life balance. While the data suggests that when working from home people are just as productive as when they are in the office (often more so), data also indicates that managers feel the opposite to be the case. (In truth those who shirk at home probably shirked in the office too.) Management needs to be open-minded and have the confidence to create a new kind of office culture that also trusts and embraces the role of working from home as an important element within it.

Similarly, management needs to find ways to integrate the energy, enthusiasm and new ideas of the younger generation with the wisdom of the over-fifties, gathered from the multitude of diverse experiences they have lived through over the years.

A starting point is for management to make 3rd-Agers feel valued as opposed to being first in line for redundancy; to think of their institutional knowledge as an asset that is important to the success of the company. Feeling valued and knowing they have an active role to play feeds in to how an individual then assesses their work/life balance.

Then it is finding a way to work with 3rd-Agers so that they can have their ‘carpe diem’ adventures yet continue to contribute to the company. It is not about big salaries and long hours, rather about more limited and flexible hours which are focused specifically where their experience and expertise have most relevance.

All of this needs to be part of the world of work that we create as we emerge from the pandemic. For the UK to be successful it needs to harness all of its assets, a key part of which is the contribution of 3rd-Agers. It may not be 1945, but in 2022 reversing the brain drain is part of the new world that we need to create.


Written by Chris Stride

Contributing columnist at A3A Agency for the Third Age

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