Half of older workers want to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ retirement

Experts say both employees and businesses can benefit from ‘winding down’ to the end of working life

Half of UK workers approaching retirement would prefer to work longer and gradually retire rather than face a ‘cliff edge’ and suddenly stop work altogether, a survey has found.

Of the 1,007 workers polled, all over the age of 50 and earning more than £20,000, 49 per cent reported they would like a ‘pre-retirement’ period with a lightened workload instead of taking a more traditional approach.

The survey found 70 per cent of respondents said they wanted to work fewer days each week, and 44 per cent said they wanted to work fewer hours in an individual day.

Only 31 per cent said they would rather retire the traditional way.

The survey was conducted by insurance company Aegon in conjunction with Opinium between 30 November and 6 December 2018.

Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon, said gradually retiring offered several advantages to workers, including a prolonged income. It also eased people into retirement rather than subjecting them to the abrupt end of their working life. “Those approaching retirement want a fluid transition,” he said.

“Many see this as having the best of all worlds, benefitting mentally and socially from work, as well as continuing to receive an income, while simultaneously enjoying more leisure time.”

Cameron added both employers and the wider economy could also benefit from enabling individuals to remain economically active into later life.

Chris Brooks, senior policy manager at Age UK, agreed the benefits of allowing employees to retire more gradually were not unilateral. He told People Management that not only did a “wind down” period make retirement easier on the employee, it gave older workers an opportunity to help mentor other staff to develop skills and expertise and mitigate the effects of colleagues retiring. 

“Some companies manage to help people move into slightly different roles and do part-time work. Companies can utilise the skills of their older workers when they are working part-time in different ways.” Brooks added. “Employers who offer flexible working can ensure they don’t have a rush of people leaving work at the same time.”

Duncan Brown, head of HR consultancy at the Institute for Employment Studies, said much of the legislation and employer-led policy required to enable this sort of flexible working was already in place, but HR departments needed to apply it more broadly.

“It needs a mindset shift in HR away from [the idea] there are only limited flexible working options and we target those at working mums in their 50s,” Brown said. “Focusing more on outputs and what people do, rather than where they do it, is likely to produce huge benefits.”

Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, agreed olders workers can help develop younger workers’ skills on the job. She told People Management: “Organisations are still struggling to attract talent and the people with the skills they need, so there’s definitely space for older workers and space for younger workers as well.

“[Employers] need to think creatively about career progression for younger workers and having older workers in the workplace is beneficial as well. Companies would definitely want both.”

In November last year Aviva warned the UK could face a shortage of workers if it failed to adequately support older workers, as the percentage of the population in later-life age group increases. The insurance firm estimated the shortfall could reach 3 million in the coming decade.