Early signs of a return to work by over-60s are emerging as the labour market responds to the cost of living and the prevalence of remote working.
In December the Office for National Statistics highlighted increasing economic activity from 50 to 64 year olds, having already noted that older adults who had left paid work during the pandemic were considering returning to employment given the opportunity to work at home.
Now, recruiter Randstad UK has revealed a 160% rise in the number of over-60s registering as job candidates – a trend labelled the Great Unretirement by some.
Randstad said it expected about 155 candidates who were over 60 to apply to the agency every year. This number rose gradually until 2018, when it peaked at 180, then fell to 150 in 2020. However, in the past 12 months, 400 people over the age of 60 have registered with the recruitment agency to look for work.
For Victoria Short, chief executive of Randstad UK, the reasons behind the trend were clear: “Inflation is running at levels not seen for 40 years. Living costs are soaring. While an affordable early retirement might have looked realistic a couple of years ago, it might not be an option anymore. People’s finances are driving them back into work.”
Recruiting older workers
Randstad’s findings support Glassdoor Europe’s prediction, ahead of the ONS’s next labour market analysis to be released next week, that economic activity will continue to falter except among early retirees.
“The historic cost of living crisis may force early retirees to return to the labour market,” said Glassdoor economist Lauren Thomas.
She added: “Restoring growth in economic activity won’t be easy, as evidenced by a recent House of Lords report on high levels of economic inactivity in the UK. It cited four factors as the primary causes: early retirement among those aged 50-64, increasing chronic illness, changes in the structure of migration, and the impact of an ageing UK population.
“As none of these factors are likely to turn around overnight, economic inactivity is expected to remain high in January’s report, with one potential exception: early retirees aged 50-64.”
Thomas said analysis of hundreds of thousands of employee reviews on Glassdoor indicated workers were worried: discussion in 2022 around the cost of living jumped 337% from the previous year. “With wages unlikely to rise in real terms as long as inflation remains so high, early retirees may have little choice but to return to work,” she said. Retired workers in their 50s indicated a higher willingness to return to work in late 2022 than they had earlier in the year.
“For those who have recently retired, it can be easier to return to the workforce,” said Thomas, “as early retirement is often an informal process and barriers to return are much lower since skills are less out of date. Unsurprisingly, younger retirees are much more likely to consider returning to work and less confident in their financial support than those nearing the state pension age.”
Among those aged 50-64, the fall was even starker, with a drop of 84,000 so-called economically inactive people, suggesting many of those who decided to retire in the pandemic are now returning to work.
The ONS found late last year that among those aged 50-64, there was a fall of 84,000 economically inactive people, suggesting many of those who decided to retire in the pandemic were now returning to work. It added that there was a fall over the August-October quarter of 49,000 in people citing retirement as a reason for inactivity.
According to Randstad, the sectors with the oldest candidates, on average, are financial services and education. One supply teacher working was almost 86 years old, the recruiter revealed. The teacher had originally registered with Randstad at the “tender age of 77”.
For HR specialist Su Allen, companies need to adjust their attitudes to accommodate and benefit from older workers. She wrote in a blog: “Whether it’s down to financial reasons, or wrapped up in outdated views, there is a disconnect between what older workers want and need, and what employers deem appropriate for their organisations.
“Life expectancies are increasing, and therefore, so is the length of time that workers can potentially work, or, conversely, the length of time they spend in retirement. As a result, many workers want to work for longer than some employers consider them employable (using ‘capability’ as the exit route), with an outcome of being pushed into much longer retirement periods, where they may find that they struggle personally or financially. Once forced out, older workers struggle to find alternative comparable work elsewhere.”
Meanwhile, older people’s travel and insurance group Saga, has released figures showing the value of people over 50 to the volunteering sector, calling them the “UK’s hidden superpower”.
The organisation revealed that over-50s in the UK give a total of 807 million days of unpaid time a year caring or volunteering for others, worth over £66bn to the country’s economy.
Nearly one quarter (24%) of volunteers said they worked on an unpaid basis and over one-third give at least some of their time to care for others.
Around a third of those volunteering regularly (33%) give at least three days a month. The same is true of 16% of those volunteering more informally.
A wide range of roles was undertaken, with many volunteers running an activity or event, helping with secretarial or administrative work or giving advice, counselling or mentoring. Across the whole over-50s population, this equated to 135.4 million days of volunteering per year, equating to over £11bn if volunteers were paid the living wage, said Saga.
Lisa Edgar, chief insight officer at the company, said: “Britain is a generous nation and people over 50 are our hidden volunteering superpower. Far from winding down or stepping back, the reality is that the more experienced you are, the more you can – and do – give back to society. Experience really is everything – in this case the data shows the over 50s powering a more altruistic society.”