Older people who work from home more likely to stay in the workforce, ONS finds

Two in five over-50s started working from home during the pandemic, with experts saying extended working lives is a ‘positive outcome’

Working from home can keep older people in the workforce for longer, experts have said, as official figures show many workers over the age of 50 have made the switch to remote working during the pandemic. 

Figure from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that two-thirds of older workers who never worked from home before the pandemic had shifted to working from home at least part time. 

Between January and February 2020, two-thirds (66.8 per cent) of workers aged 50 years and over said that they never worked from home. However, of these workers, two in five (41.5 per cent) changed to working from home ‘sometimes, often or always’ at some point between April 2020 and March 2021.

The ONS data also found that, in June and July 2020, those who were working entirely from home were more likely to say they were planning to retire later (11 per cent) compared with those not working from home (5 per cent).

In addition, the ONS cited data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing COVID-19 substudy, which found working from home would allow those older workers with a disability or illness to stay in the labour force longer.

It noted that one in 10 (10.9 per cent) workers with a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity who work from home said they were now planning to retire later compared to just 5.9 per cent of those not working from home.

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As a result, working from home was noted to be a positive sign as the ONS suggested that one of the main reasons for this cohort dropping out of the labour market was poor health.

Even before the onset of the pandemic, the ONS found health benefits for older workers who worked from home. It found that 84.4 per cent of older workers who moved to home working before the pandemic reported ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘good’ health, compared to 78.5 per cent of older workers who had not made the change.

Jonathan Boys, labour market economist at the CIPD, told People Management that older workers were more likely to value flexibility than younger workers.

"More home working options increases the match between older workers' preferences and the available employment opportunities”, Boys said. “It can extend working lives and is a positive outcome from the big home working experiment.” 

But, he added, home working was only one form of flexible working and employers need to think about offering a wider range of options, including flexi-time, job shares or part-time working.

Cheney Hamilton, CEO of flexible working recruiter Find Your Flex, warned that older workers were being pushed out of pre-pandemic roles.

According to Hamilton, people aged 45 years old and above are “job hunting in droves” due to the pandemic and that older workers have been hit particularly hard by the move to remote working. 

"Many older workers are seeking flexibility to accommodate a better work-life balance as they enter the latter stages of their working lives,” she said, adding that while flexibility was once a luxury, it “is now a requirement, if you're lucky enough to find a role".

A Saga poll in 2018, on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), found that, when asked what workplaces should do to become more welcoming to older workers, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of those aged 50 and over said that workplaces should introduce flexible working including working from home arrangements.