It seems that Age Discrimination has hit the headlines in the UK recently with the introduction of legislation. Suddenly people are aware that older workers may still have something to contribute to the economy and need not be put out to graze in their 50’s and 60’s.

I think the emphasis is still too much on the ‘fairness’ issue, giving individual rights to be treated without discrimination. Employers shouldn’t need to be forced by legislation to consider older workers, they should be encouraged to recognise that there is a pool of highly talented and able people who would like to work and who would be highly productive.

The problem is that older workers are often seen as more expensive than their younger colleagues. This comes from the hierarchical way we look at jobs in organisations. The longer you’ve been around, the more you get paid until you are eventually too expensive. There is very little opportunity to ‘downshift’ within organisations so people have to leave and find a ‘lower level’ job elsewhere.

Why can’t employers encourage older employees to stay on and transition slowly to retirement over a number of years? It is ridiculous to say that one day before someone’s 60th or 65th birthday they are fully employed and one day after they are no longer of any use. It is only because we have a rigid view of work that this happens.

With the demise of many pension schemes people will need to work longer to be able to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Why not have people working one or two day a week into their 80’s? If they are going to live well into their 90’s they will still have plenty of time for retirement! In 1948 we introduced retirement for males at 65 and females at 60. A man of 65 then would live on average for a further 12 years and now will live for 16; so to keep the length of retirement constant the state pension age should already be 69 for men. To meet our current drive for equality and have identical lengths of retirement, women should now be retiring at 72!

This is not just a financial issue. It also doesn’t make sense from a life cycle point of view. It is ridiculous that people work flat out during their 20s 30s and 40s at the same time as bringing up a family and then continue to work hard during their 40s and 50s at a time their own parents may need more care and attention. Then, just as these responsibilities disappear, they leave the workforce and enter a life of full-time leisure. Wouldn’t it make more sense if people enjoyed more time with their families during the earlier years and spread their working lives out a bit thinner. So instead of cramming work into 30 years why not spread it out over 50 or 60 and take life at a more leisurely pace?