Handing over the Reigns

Chris BallFar be it from me to get involved in constitutional issues, but I couldn’t help wondering if Spain’s King Juan Carlos’s announcement of his abdication might not be a lesson to all of us to recognise when enough is enough. Retirement decisions are often hard, though let’s face it, most 76 year olds are not hanging around any longer than they need to.


In King Juan Carlos’s case it seems, the issue is clouded by adverse opinion polls and the plummeting public image of the monarchy in Spain, arising from various scandals. His decision appears to have been in part to save the reputation of the monarchy – plus a little bit of intergenerational solidarity, perhaps!


However, one wonders whether the “job for life” notion, which only applies to a tiny number of individuals in the very top jobs (generally as heads of state or church), isn’t really a bit passé .


You could go further and describe it as a grotesquely inhumane idea, based on all sorts of peculiar fables about God given rights and so on. Who in their right mind would want to carry on until they literally drop?


The royals, by and large, don’t get a choice. (And who is to say that they want it?) But would it do any harm for them to fall in line with the rest of us at some point?


There have of course been suggestions that the Queen, now 88, should step down in favour of Prince Charles (currently 65) who could well be 70 plus by the time he becomes King. I can’t pretend to worry about such things, but come to think of it, it will be a hell of a statement about employability in later life if this does happen.


And (assuming the Prince has no objections to being described in such a way) he could use his famous willingness to express his thoughts to good effect and raise the profile of the “older worker” to excellent effect. As patron of PRIME[i]  he may choose to comment – but there again, maybe he will not.


Organisations of all kinds do need succession plans. The thought that they should be based on mere human mortality would be anathema to most sensible people. They should in theory provide ways for good people to step aside at a time when they have given a lot and before they start to decline.


Done properly, managed succession can mean the cultural values, human capital and reputation of the organisation are all enhanced by handing over the reins to a newcomer.


People who carry on for a long time can be doing a great job – let’s say that very clearly. But there are cases where they do untold harm.


Leaving aside royalty, one can think of a few heads of state that most people would have been glad to see the back of, doing nobody a service, unwilling to retire at any price! Perhaps this is a problem in family businesses too. I wouldn’t know, but I assume it is.


In organisations, as in states, the ability to say “enough is enough” is a touchstone of maturity. Decisions about the right time to go should consider the needs of the organisation as well as those of the individual.


Tradition can get in the way, but sometimes it can be shoved aside, as we saw in the Catholic Church last year. Pope Benedict became the first Pontiff to resign in 600 years when he stood down in February 2013.


Can anyone say it was a bad decision? His successor Pope Francis, is the kind of Pope to whom even non-believers (like me) can warm.


Not that Benedict’s idea of retirement was exactly the intention of invigorating the Church. He had waning personal health and mental powers, and a lot of nasty stuff in the background about priests’ sex scandals and murky financial dealings.


The desire to get away from it all and start afresh on a new page, can stimulate the retirement juices wonderfully! In Benedict’s case, it was enough to make a deeply conservative Pope, steeped in the tradition that “Popes work till they drop”, hang up his tiara.


How far is all this relevant to secular and non-royal organisations which it is the lot of most of us to inhabit?  Well, no normal organisation could put up with the “waiting for dead men’s shoes” approach to succession.


The departure of an ancient (and safe) pair of hands at the top might be thought to cause unwanted ripples, but there surely comes a time for everyone to step down. A sense of timing is called for.


Some business leaders do seem to carry on for ever, though less so in Europe than in the USA and Japan. (In a list of the 16 oldest company CEOs I have seen, not a single British name appears. (There is one each from Belgium and Italy). How odd and what is the explanation? Less comfortable board rooms in Europe, perhaps?


As the Guardian reminds us today, in the last eighteen months ageing monarchs in both the Netherlands and Belgium have stood down in favour of younger heirs. Despite the speculation, our own Queen seems unlikely to follow suit.


Quite apart from a total absence of scandal or controversy surrounding her personal conduct, she seems well able to delegate all the gadding around her empire to younger members of the family.


It would be nice to think however, that the traditions of “dying on one’s job” could be tempered with an over-riding sanity that older workers everywhere deserve the right to retire. At the same time younger people at some point, might get the right to take up the reins.


One condition however, would be to have a worthy successor in place. A case for an election perhaps?


Chris Ball

Chief Executive

TAEN – The Age and Employment Network

[i] the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise

How can we ban age discrimination effectively?

Do we really need to issue a demand such as “end age discrimination in employment now!” It might be thought unnecessary but most certainly, we do! In fact age discrimination may be the last bastion of widespread and endemic prejudice – despite it being unlawful.


In 2006 most age discrimination in the workplace was supposedly outlawed, but don’t let that fool you. Like Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Professor Stanley Unwin in the 1960s movie of the same name, age discrimination just seems able to Carry on Regardless.


In fact the law against age discrimination has been a stop-start affair with both parties being hesitant about taking the total plunge. Labour introduced the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations in 2006 – implementing the EU umbrella anti-discrimination initiative, the 2000 Employment Directive. Following this however, it remained lawful to enforce retirement of people above 65 (a pretty ageist thing) and it was not until 2011 that mandatory retirement was made unlawful with the scrapping of the so called “default retirement age.”


While this has been hailed as good news for people who want to stay working beyond the former “retirement age”, unfortunately it has not improved the situation people in their fifties or sixties who are trying to get jobs.


It comes as a rude surprise to many people to learn that the real issue for many older workers is not how they are going to work into their seventies?  but how are they going to carry on working up to 65? 30 per cent of people between 50 and 64 are economically inactive, dropping out of the workforce in many cases quite unexpectedly and finding it well nigh impossible to return.


There is no doubt that older jobseekers are finding it harder to get work, in part because employers systematically discriminate against older applicants when they recruit for new posts.


The older job seeker in Britain today is in many ways the most disadvantaged individual in the labour market. Employers don’t mention ages on advertisements any more of course but overwhelmingly they have a clear idea of the age of the person they want.


Firms which use recruitment agencies, typically make clear their “ideal age range” for a particular job. This isn’t spelled out formally but the agency is likely to include at least some people in that age range in their short list – otherwise where will the next contract be placed? The selecting organisation does the rest. No one is told that they were not chosen because of their age, but this is what goes on.


Far from organisations being “age blind”, candidates’ ages are among the first things many employers think of or want to know about in a potential recruit. All this happens covertly so that age is seldom given as the reason for failing to get a job. Older job seekers pick up the signs however.


In a recent survey of 50+ job seekers by TAEN, 83 per cent felt that they had been “seen as too old by recruiters.” 72 per cent said that they were “seen as too experienced or over qualified.” Far from age discrimination being banned in job recruitment, it has simply been driven under-ground.


It is no coincidence that people over 50 have the biggest problems of any age group with long term unemployment. Older job seekers make more applications and remain out of work longer than other age groups.


The older job seeker, who may feel he or she has many years of active work life ahead if only a job were to be offered, is consigned to the scrap heap. What could be more depressing than being pointlessly cast aside in one’s mid-fifties?


TAEN – The Age and Employment Network – believes the law should be strengthened. At the moment employers can pick and choose according to age without realistic fear of being caught. Consider the following points.


  • It remains lawful to ask a person’s age in a job application – why should this be relevant?
  • It remains lawful to ask applicants to list all their previous jobs in date order – why should anyone want to know them when only the most recent are likely to be important?
  • It remains lawful to ask for qualifications and education with exact dates attached to each – but why is all this detail needed when it only serves to focus attention on the age of the applicant
  • If someone tells an untruth about their age in a job application and this is found out subsequently, it is an instantly dismissible offence. Is this really fair? If age is so often an unlawful bar to serious consideration for a job, one could argue that dissembling is a justified response of self-protection.


We in TAEN want to eradicate this mindless ageism from the labour market. We know it will be very difficult but we are determined to try. We realise that forming alliances is essential and we invite all trade unionists and right thinking people to join us.


Too many people in their fifties and sixties or even earlier are being cast aside and condemned to not working again. That’s why on October 1st – Older People’s day – we will be launching a petition. However old you are, we hope you will agree that we should not let ageism go unchallenged!


To support TAEN’s campaign to ban age discrimination against older job seekers, look out for TAEN’s petition.

Chris Ball is Chief Executive of TAEN – The Age and Employment network ( link www.taen.org.uk )

Follow Chris Ball on twitter @crystal_balls

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To join TAEN  visit (link http://taen.org.uk/about/membership)

The Snakes and ladders labour market facing older job seekers

Chris BallThe employment stats were released this week, and have added better news on employment to Monday’s “Growth is back” headlines. If this is true, what kind of upturn is it and what will the impact be on jobs and work?


On one hand there is now good evidence of rising job opportunities. In the period from May to July 2013 overall employment was up while unemployment numbers (measured by both the Labour Force Survey and claimant numbers) were down.


So yes, job opportunities are rising – there were 80,000 more people in work in broad 16 to 64 age range in the last quarter. This brought the total employed up to 29.84 million and resulted in 24,000 fewer unemployed. But unemployment will be too high for a while yet. With 7.7 per cent unemployment we are still above the Bank of England’s own target of 7.0 per cent.


Moreover, youth unemployment continues to rise – there were 9,000 more young people out of work in May to July than in the previous three months. Nearly a million younger people unemployed is a shocking picture.


Job vacancies reportedly are on the up (there were 531,000 for June to August 2013, up 7,000 from March to May) but what kinds of jobs is the question? Our labour market already has shortages of key skills but this doesn’t seem to be where the growth is.


The journey back to work for the unemployed is as hazardous as a real life game of snakes and ladders however. For every handy ladder leading to the promised uplands of a decent job, there is a dirty great snake waiting to gobble up the intrepid jobseeker. Certainly we seem a long way from a “you’ve never had it so good” style election campaign for the Conservatives in 2015.


The TUC reckons that a worker putting in 40 hours a week is £30.30 a week worse off than in 2008 after inflation has been taken into account. Studies have shown that four in every five jobs created since 2010 are in low paid sectors, so we are not seeing much of a feel-good factor at present.


If the economy really is picking up, expect to hear more about the skills problem however – and the fact that almost two million more people (mostly in work) are living in Britain than in 2008, as a result of migration. Many continue to come in response to our skills shortages though it would be good to see more of the unemployed (older and younger alike) given a chance to train for the jobs on offer.


The economy is strongly polarized in different ways – not least between public and private sectors. The recovery is unmistakably being led in the private sector.


While private sector employment rose by 114,000 in the three months to June 2013, public sector employment fell by 34,000 during the same period.


Given that a key source of economic resilience over the past few years has been in the rising numbers of self-employed and part-time workers, it may be surprising that both of these categories of workers have declined in the recent period. (Numbers of self employed fell by 27,000, whilst part-time working was down by 15,000.) So are these reductions in part-time and self-employment good or bad news? It is hard to say. One interpretation is that these forms of working were always most common among people who had little real choice. They (or many of them) took part-time work or ventured out into self-employment, whilst deep down yearning for ordinary full-time jobs with predictable pay. Given a choice many would revert to more standard working. Self-employment may offer advantages but in a recession people are more exposed to the uncertainties that go with the territory.


TAEN of course will be commenting as usual on the position of the older worker and jobseeker. There will be many in the media who refuse to spin their story as anything other than the inexorable rise of the older, state pension age plus, worker, but there is another side that remains largely neglected.


I spoke to a BBC journalist last week about this – she wasn’t really interested. The story about the continuing struggle of the much larger number of people in their fifties who need and want to work is ignored in favour of a simplistic celebration of burgeoning “oldie” workers. (They make great pictures, don’t you see?)


Yes, the number of people over 65 in work is indeed rising (by 3,000 in the May to July period) and it achieved and has remained over one million since then. But interestingly, all the increase was accounted for by men aged over 65. Where are the increasing numbers of older women? How much are we reading about their struggles?


They are getting used to working beyond the old female SPA of 60 probably, or just quitting to take up caring roles for older and younger family members. Whatever, we should take on board that the experience of older workers and jobseekers in the recession requires a gendered interpretation.


This story about older workers really demands attention to the fifty plus age range if the news is to be other than entertainment. The fifty plus age group in work increased by 95,000 in the three months to the end of July and now totals 7.72 million, yet both its contribution and unemployment travails had far less comment than the “one million 65 plus workers” headlines of a few months ago.


Long term unemployment continues to bedevil this age group – there are a total of 194,000 long term (12 months plus) unemployed fifty plus workers reported in this week’s figures – the highest proportion in any age group. No less than 46.7 per cent of those who are without jobs in the fifty plus age group are now counted as long term unemployed.


Another angle is provided by the redundancy figures. Although the overall number of redundancies in the UK fell in the second quarter of 2013 to its lowest level (123,000) since the first quarter of 2011, the number of people aged fifty plus who were made redundant (49,000) was the highest since the third quarter of 2009.


Is the continuing decline in public sector jobs making this skew inevitable because of its higher representation among mature and older staff? It seems a plausible explanation.


Also, it might be surmised that older workers are the most obvious “winners” in voluntary redundancy exercises because of their longer service and therefore higher redundancy payments. They could be simply offering themselves as volunteers for redundancy, ready to go and take the money.


Some will argue that older people are being “leant on” to leave. This may also be true, though the element voting with their feet in any redundancy exercise, should not be underestimated. People over 50 represented no less than 40 per cent of those made redundant in the second quarter of 2013. With 7.2 per cent of the workforce in the age range 50 to 64 facing redundancy, they were by far the most endangered age cohort. The number heading for the exit doors is little short of a flood.


Fortunately, many of these older redundant workers are showing a high level of resilience. Nearly three out of 10 who were successful in finding jobs after redundancy had secured those new jobs by 13 weeks after redundancy. This suggests a “get up and go” attitude that may avoid many of the problems seen in the 1980s when a dramatic spike in long term worklessness was seen among older men made redundant.


As I have said, we don’t know too much about the quality of the jobs they are taking but my fear is that some of the decline in part-time and self employed work done by older people will be traded in for other forms of insecurity – zero hours contracts being the obvious example.


If long term unemployment (and its greater risks) is the biggest snake on the board for the older person in today’s labour market, it is encouraging that at least some of them are managing to find handy ladders to get them out of danger, but for all that, finding and retaining work at fifty plus remains a hazardous business.


Chris Ball is Chief Executive of TAEN – The Age and Employment Network. Unions may affiliate to TAEN and a new individual membership offer is now available for £10 a year. Organisation members and individual supporter members receive information free and concessions on TAEN events. See www.taen.org.uk

Fiddling whilst a tsunami of age discrimination hits older job seekers

Chris BallLast week TAEN published the latest edition of its 50+ Job Seekers Survey. In some ways the results are predictable – surveys so often tell us things that we already know by instinct – but there are surprising insights too.


ONS figures show more older people in work and there is a general feeling that older people are doing reasonably well in the labour market.


The sad fact is however, that deeply embedded structural disadvantages and ingrained ageist attitudes bar hundreds of thousands of older people from returning to work. It is clear that older job seekers struggle harder than most.


Overwhelmingly they want to work because of financial need, a desire to feel valued and the social interaction work brings. Many are ‘worried’ or ‘desperate’ about not working.


They identify adverse attitudes by recruiters, mismatches of their own skills or qualifications with employers’ needs and the national focus on youth unemployment as being among the reasons for their problems.


These barriers to older job seekers continue more than six years after age discrimination was outlawed by the 2006 Age Regulations and two years after the end of the Default Retirement Age, allowing people to be forcibly retired at 65.


Today, despite these reforming legal changes, the challenge of ending age discrimination is as relevant as ever. Only one in ten over 50s looking for work think age discrimination law had helped them.


47 per cent of our older job seekers believed that the law had not had any benefit at all. One respondent, a former managing director seeking work, commented, “Age discrimination is rife in my view. Employers can work out your age with ease.”


Some respondents even volunteered the view that repeal of the DRA had made it harder to get work!


These findings cast an interesting perspective on seminar I attended in Rome to talk to Italian HR mangers about the global phenomenon of population ageing and its implications for employers.


Italian businesses are seriously worried, as are their Governments – when  they manage to get them in place. (The wrangling over coalition alliances following the recent inclusive elections continues). The proportion of the Italian population over 65 has doubled since 1950 and will continue to grow, reaching 33 per cent of the total population by 2050. The average number of children born to Italian women is 1.41 – well short of replacement levels. So leaving aside massive immigration, the Italian labour force is shrinking.


Shrinking and ageing at the same time. Logic says that working up to existing pension ages would be a start. As long ago as 2001 the Stockholm meeting of the European Council of Ministers set a target of 50% for employment rates of people in the 55-64 age range across Europe. In Italy only 36.6 % of the older workforce is in employment.


Over the past decades across Europe, millions of older workers have been eased out of their jobs as one round of industrial restructuring follows another. The early quitting culture has stuck and become an expectation. Now like so many mucky pigeons coming home to roost, the problem appears as an unwelcome threat to economies that simply won’t have the people to do the jobs their businesses need in future.


Hence, on one hand, we have in countries with the most acute demographic threats, emerging concern to find ways of making it possible for people to work longer. At the same time, bizarrely, we have massive age discrimination at the point of hiring.


I couldn’t resist reflecting with my Italian audience on the homily of Nero fiddling whilst the fires raged outside!


Here in the UK, how do we respond to our respondents who claimed their problems could be explained by employers being charier about hiring people who want to work longer, now the DRA has been removed?


Perhaps they are right.


We have a labour market that is ambivalent in its attitudes to older people. Employers will allow them to work longer in the same jobs if they wish but they bottle out of offering them new jobs, believing they may want to work for ever.


People are working longer in part because they can choose to remain in work longer but the lot of the older person who has left a job is problematic.


He or she is likely to fall outside the person specification offered by employers to recruitment agencies, simply on grounds of age. And there is significant evidence that some recruitment agencies connive and fail to challenge ageist attitudes.
It seems clear that the law is being flouted with impunity and there is a presumption that, ‘of course employers will discriminate by age if they wish to so.’ The eradication of age discrimination in employment is a far from complete.


The time has surely come to assess the effectiveness of the law against age discrimination in recruitment. One speaker on Thursday spoke of employers and politicians ignoring a demographic tsunami in Italy, but it is not only the Romans who emulate the feats of Nero.


Neither the Pope’s resignation nor “Grey Power” stepping aside will create jobs for younger people

Chris BallI was in Roubaix, Northern France, discussing attitudes to work and retirement on both sides of the Channel when the Pope announced his decision to step down. It was interesting to see reactions in this once Catholic country to the news of his holiness’s decision to retire.


The typical response in an (admittedly unrepresentative) sample in my impromptu on the spot survey was a Gallic shrug of “Naturellement, tout le monde a le droit de racrocher” – everyone has the right to hang up his boots.


This contrasts somewhat with French expressions of wonder that so many people in Britain are deciding to work beyond conventional retirement ages – though in most cases retiring well below the Pope’s 86 years.


The French, relying on exaggerated media reports of older people still at work in their 80s and 90s, assume we are literally toiling away till we drop.


Lies, damned lies and misunderstandings are often at the root of such problems.


One example is seen in the thoughts of Michael Saunders, a Citi Bank economist writing in the Daily Mail recently,  “Grey power (is) winning the battle…over young people”


“The ageing of the population and workforce is inevitable and reinforces the likelihood that the UK will have sluggish growth in domestic demand, productivity and real pay.”


Oh, really?


Let’s suppose for a moment that an older population actually will lead to slower growth, how does it help to worry about it?


The best policy is surely to try to keep people in work longer. Talking down the utility of the older worker to prospective employers really could have an impact on national output.


Better an older person in a job than out of work altogether (and totally unproductive in economic terms.)


In any case, while some studies on age and productivity do indeed some show productivity negatively correlated with age, by no means all of them do so.


I have seen and heard of plenty of examples where the knowledge and experience of older workers is recognised as being of great value.


If we want to measure output we should be wary of the controlling variables such as levels of training which workers in respective age groups receive, the extent to which companies make use of ICT or interventions used to maintain working capacity.


BT undertook an experiment some years ago, in which they measured outputs of different age cohorts and found younger workers in skilled roles to be more productive.


When they retested participants enjoying a common level of recent skills training, the differences disappeared.


When comparing outputs of younger and older workers one should take other things into account, such as an element of deliberate downsizing of roles, reduction of hours and so on which older workers sensibly often opt for but which may reduce productivity.


As for the assertion that, older workers have been effectively stealing the jobs of the young, this too flies in the face the facts.


I call in aid the most authoritative international study of the implications of demographic change on working life. The OECD’s  Live Longer; Work Longer  debunks the idea of age cohorts being in competition for a fixed number of jobs.


If we really could help younger workers by asking older employees to move out of the way, it might pose a moral dilemma of whether to work or not to work. But we can’t and it doesn’t!


Keeping people of all ages in work boosts aggregate demand, contributes to taxation and is more likely to lead to job creation than the reverse.  The fixed “lump” of labour notion is, according to most observers, fallacious. Hence they dub it, “the lump of labour fallacy.”


Which brings me on to the real story about the numbers of jobs “created” since 2008. Yes, “93 per cent of the increase in the past ten years has been among over 50s – a rise of 1.5 million people – 22 per cent.” But likening the over 50s to greedy kids devouring more than their share of the treat is wide of the mark.


Figures last week from the Office of National Statistics show that between 2008 and 2012 the number of “main job” self-employed workers rose by 367,000. 84 per cent of this increase was for those aged 50 and above. As people get older they are much more likely to be self-employed. (Just 5% of young people are self-employed, compared with 37% of those aged 65 or over.)


Moreover, a phenomenal 60 per cent of this increase in self-employment took place between 2011 and 2012. So you could argue that older people, by their ingenuity and enterprise, are a key factor in whatever buoyancy there is in the economy.


The Pope’s retirement won’t save or create a single job for a younger person of course – which does not mean that he should not move aside if it suits him to do so.  Unlike the rest of us however, occupancy of his office for a few more years would never have raised concerns about productivity in the first place. Somehow, I doubt that he will join the ranks of the self employed however!

The Gamble of Age Discrimination Tribunal Claims

Chris BallSetting aside occasional sporting metaphors of my more whimsical blogs, it is rare that serious discussion of age discrimination appears in sports pages and broadcasts.


However, news of John McCririck’s £3 million claim for age discrimination has drawn as much attention as any Derby day favourite hitting the front coming out of Tattenham Corner.


While it is not part of TAEN’s brief to discourage people from using the employment tribunals in age cases, one might occasionally wonder why they bother. It is all too easy to spend time, energy and a small fortune pursuing lost causes.


The tribunals seem to offer a fitting alternative to the gamblers’ last chance saloon. Read More…

Using pensions to incentivise volunteering is barmy

http://www.stockfreeimages.com/LORD Bichard a crossbench peer who retired at the age of 53  and is currently in receipt of a £120,000 a year civil service pension, has come up with some bright suggestions which would ‘encourage’ older people to do ‘voluntary work’ for their pensions.


Bichard’s comments at the committee investigating the impact of demographic changes on the public sector merit reading.


‘Are there ways in which we could use incentives to encourage older people, if not to be in full time work, to be making a contribution?’ he asks. Apparently, Lord Bichard is in favour of using pensions to ‘incentivise’ retired people to be useful members of society, as he sees it.


This, in my respectful view, is one of the barmiest ideas to have been presented to a parliamentary committee for a long time. It betrays seriously worrying attitudes about older people and their value to society. Read More…

State pension age – will they dare to raise it again?


Chris Ball wrote for the Unions21 publication: The Generation Game, Does Age Matter?

At some point during the Conservative conference, the issue of working longer before retirement may come up. (How could it not with George Osborne deciding that £10 billion of additional welfare cuts will have to be found?)


There are several reasons to doubt that it would be easy to deal with the debt crisis by pushing up state pension age more quickly however. Yet, as this approach is being followed in several other European countries we should be ready for it. One argument which will be used will be the increasing ageing of society.


Sadly, at present the naïve idea that demographic change means we can automatically look forward to years of working longer is going largely unchallenged. Demographic change alone cannot possibly determine our ability to work.


Today’s news reports suggest that the burden of further cuts will fall on the working age poor and on the face of it – the young. The Guardian says that first targets are likely to include housing benefits for the under 25s and removing extra benefits from claimant parents who have an additional child.

Read More…