Wooing Midlifers Back To Work? Time To Adapt To The 3rd Quarter

Companies are scrambling to hire, older workers continue to retire. In the US, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell laments the 3.5 million people missing from the workforce compared to pre-pandemic trends, many of them over 50. In the UK, a House of Lords report entitled ‘Where Have All the Workers Gone?’ bemoans the 630,000 newly inactive people in the country, a majority due to early retirement. Why they left is hotly debated and rather diverse. So what will it will take to entice them back to work? First, a better understanding of people in their 3rd Quarters – the increasingly active 25 years after 50. Secondly, a shift in corporate cultures and practices. What the gender shift was to the past two decades, the age shift will be to the next two. Is your company ready?

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wants to get Britain’s 50+ population to resist early retirement and shore up the post-pandemic economy by returning to work. He is planning to offer them a Midlife MOT (British for an annual car check up), a programme first launched by insurance company AVIVA. It invites people to think and plan for the second half of lengthening lives. (Full disclosure, I run a similar programme myself, have just returned from Harvard’s year-long version of the same, the Advanced Leadership Initiative, and am researching other Midlife Transition programmes around the world).

Individuals: Plan and Pace The New 3rd Quarter

Will getting people to think more deeply about their wealth, worth and life’s work stimulate them back into paid employment? In the UK, 60% of those who left their jobs since 2020 consider returning. Most are professionals over age 50 who have taken early retirement. They are a crucial and highly experienced part of the national labour force. Getting individuals to rethink work and engagement in an age of longevity (as well as costs in an age of inflation) is both urgent and essential.

We have few role models for how to age and engage across our longer life- , health- and workspans. Most of us are overly, and often unconsciously, influenced by what our parents’ generation did, even though this may have little relevance to our own futures. How do you rewire expectations and invite people to integrate the new reality of much longer lives? Retirement, for many, loses its sheen after a short handful of years. So does relevance and confidence.

From having researched, taught and coached hundreds of midlifers, the motivations and expectations of mature adults in their 3rd Quarters (age 50-75) are substantially different than those in their 2nd Quarters (age 25-49). Management guru Peter Drucker predicted this differentiating split between the over- and under-50s over two decades ago. As the proportion of people in the first group grows in ageing societies, the pressure is on to start understanding what those differences are, how they impact the workplace and how to adapt to manage the change – and the generational balance between these two groups. And where they fit in our lengthening, 4-Quarter lives.

  • In Q2, most people are focused on building earnings, egos and families. They tend to focus on work, money and advancement. To prove themselves in the societal, cultural and parental imprints they have ingested and survive, succeed, perhaps even thrive in the world.
  • In Q3, some of these pressures lighten as family nests begin to empty, mortgages are paid down, work becomes less central to identity and employers less loyal to their ageing employees. The personalisation and privatisation of pensions in the UK, and healthier stock market valuations in the US, led people to retire during the pandemic. Work will need to offer different incentives – flexibility, purpose and community, for example.

Companies: Manage the Difference Between Q2 and Q3

For most companies, ageing and longevity aren’t yet on the radar, and careers are managed with a focus almost entirely limited to Q2. Individual success is often defined as the extension of Q2 careers and work patterns as late as possible, studiously ignoring the rising reality and significance of Q3.

The other, essential variable of the return-to-work equation that governments are hoping for is getting companies to adapt to the consequences of longevity. This requires robust longevity strategies which integrate the difference between people in Q2 and Q3 – as customers and as employees. Both groups will be looking for shifts in tone and approach, one that starts to integrate three things: age inclusivity, universal design and an understanding of Q3’s shifting priorities.

Customers 50+ don’t want to be marketed to as a separate category. They are tiring of advertising visions of grey-haired retirees on sunset-backed cruises created by 30-somethings. Instead, they want universal design, appropriate to all ages and abilities, to be integrated into all products, services and the marketing that goes with them. Watch as companies begin to rebrand and reposition their marketing and product development.Before this phase, many companies will start by focusing more explicitly on the ageing segment:

  • For example, see The Body Shop’s campaign against ‘anti-ageing’ slogans as a sign of where the wind is blowing. They are rebranding their best-selling ‘Drops of Youth’ serum and calling it ‘Edelweiss’ instead, linking it to a robust and resilient plant that grows in the Alps. This is presented as part of the company’s “to move away from harmful branding that promotes ‘anti-aging.’
  • Caddis Eye Appliances is on an activist mission “disguised as reading glasses.” The founder, Tim Parr, is on an anti- anti-aging push. The company website announces it clearly: “we’re here to call out the whole fountain of youth illusion, industries that profit from the fear of getting older and the concept of ‘ageing gracefully.’ Get older. Get over it. See stuff.”

Employees 50+ will be looking for similar adjustments in how companies manage their own staffs. A conscious rejection of ageist systems and policies, the continued investment and development in careers for people 50+, and flexibility in when and where people work. Companies that have successfully gender balanced and accommodated the needs of women and parents have a competitive edge in adapting to the longevity wave, as many of the issues are similar and require comparable adjustments.

The pressure to adapt rises in line with the ever-increasing share of older workers in the labour force. An astonishing 42% of the current UK workforce is over 50, with predictions of this rising to 47% by 2030. It’s about a third in the US. A few examples of how companies are adjusting:

  • UNILEVER introduced U-Work, an internal gig employment scheme that offers employment and pension security while flexing work into project-sized chunks. Inclusively offered to workers of any age, it is particularly attractive to the young, the older and the parent. After a successful initial trial in the UK, it is being rolled out internationally.
  • CVS Health, a national chain of pharmacies in the US, launched its Talent is Ageless program “to explore new strategies to attract and retain the rapidly growing group of able mature workers.” Lena Barkley, at age 70, manages part of these efforts. “One tenet of our attraction, hire and retention strategy,” she says, “focuses on the abundant experience and skills that mature workers often offer.”
  • Fuller, Smith & Turner, a premium pubs and hotels business in the UK, started a focused recruitment campaign before a talent-strapped holiday season. Recognising that only 10% of their employees were over 50+, well below their share of the national workforce, the company specifically targeted older people, with an offer of flexible shift lengths and hours.

The UK National Careers Service, like AARP in the US, are encouraging employers to embrace the change and see the benefits – both for individuals and organisations – of enabling Q3 employment.

As a gender expert, this reminds me very much of turn-of-the-century discussions on increasing the employment and progression of women and responding to their needs and life cycles. Women taught companies a lot about issues that will be highly relevant to adapting to talent and customers in Q3: from reciprocal mentoring and flexibility to communication styles and different career and life cycles.

As companies begin to look to build generational balance, they may want to look back at how (and if) they gender balanced. We know how to do this. We just need to do it again, (b)older.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivahwittenbergcox/2023/01/05/wooing-midlifers-back-to-work-time-to-adapt-to-the-3rd-quarter/