There was a time when we had genuine concerns about what we’d do to amuse ourselves when robots did all our work.
Anyone who watched Tomorrow’s World in the 1970s will remember Michael Rodd getting his flares in a flap about all the leisure time we’d have at our disposal in ‘The Future’ when we retired, aged 35.
Well, it didn’t quite turn out like that and, today, many people approaching their sixties still have around a quarter of their working life left before they keel over with shock at the news that the pension fund they’ve been paying into since they were 11 has gone bust.
The UK population is ageing – by 2040, around one in seven of us will be over 75 – and, as life expectancy increases, so does the need to remain economically active.
While Baby Boomers had the choice of deciding whether to work beyond retirement age – selling Age of Aquarius Simon shirts in their local Habitat – for most of us who followed, it will be a necessity.
Generation X and Yers, only now managing to pay-off their student loans, were recently given the welcome news that any savings they make will be more than swallowed up by the cost of paying for the Covid lockdown and the war in Ukraine until they are 135.
The good news, for the glass half-full types among us, is that there are plenty of jobs to go round – if you don’t mind delivering kebabs at 3am on a battery-powered bike.
If you want to work in the NHS, you can have two jobs. Or three. In fact, you can have as many as you like, as long as you can start right away.
Most fair-minded employers would, no doubt, agree that having an age-diverse workplace is a good thing. Combining the enthusiasm of youth with the experience of older workers is the best of all worlds, surely?
Older workers are less likely to move on to another job; they’re more flexible as they don’t have family commitments and they bring a wealth of lived-knowledge and industry-specific experience.
Having more practical wisdom means that older employees are more likely to remain calm and level-headed in troubling times, as they ruminate on a Murray mint.
However, things are never that simple and most people aged 55-64 report some form of age discrimination in the workplace.
Unless managed properly, workplace relations can quickly become tense. Younger employees can feel their progress is being impeded if older people fill more senior roles, long past their retirement age.
They can feel that they’re not given the opportunities they deserve and that their opinions are not listened to or are overwritten by more senior colleagues who are more likely to be closer in age to the bosses.
The UK is behind the curve in nurturing age diverse workforces compared with many developing countries who have made the transition quicker. Nevertheless, some reforms have been made including abolishing mandatory retirement and many people have been ‘encouraged’ to work longer due to the closure of some generous defined benefit pension schemes.
Age profiles vary by industry – hospitality is the youngest with an average age of 34, while agriculture and mining have among the oldest with an average age of 47. Health, retail, education, and manufacturing have the largest proportion (47%) of workers aged fifty and over.
The reality continues to confound the predictions of Tomorrows World and, while there are still those who believe that automation will make human workers redundant, they are smaller in number than ever before.
For the time being, robots and algorithms are playing second fiddle to flexible working, health and well-being policies for older workers and battery-powered bikes.