Why companies need to ‘retire retirement’ and start training their employees to work into their 80s

A controversial idea, but one more popular than you might think. Michael Middleton takes aim at retirement.

Generally people are not good with change, especially changes that are enforced from external means. Clearly the last year with lockdowns, furlough, redundancy and continued uncertainty over the economy has caused a lot of people a considerable degree of emotional turmoil.

Retirement has tended to do this for years. As the trigger age approaches some people bury their heads trying not to think about it, others can’t wait as they hate their job, but many more live in fear of what is to come.

Retirement is a 130-year-old concept that is long past its sell-by yet it remains something people strive for throughout their working lives, almost as a rite of passage. The reality of retirement rarely turns out to be what we expect, and something most people dread.

More forward-thinking people have, for some years, been ‘uninventing’ retirement as they seek to continue to work into their 70s and even 80s, or find other ways to keep both their mind and body active.  However, this is often by accident or after a period of reflection and transition.

Realising that retirement is a gradual process not an abrupt here-today-gone-tomorrow is essential, and employers have a huge role to play.

Too often the transition to being a pensioner instead proves very difficult and causes health issues, the first being a battle against depression caused by the sense of the loss of status and purpose when their career ends.

Realising that retirement is a gradual process not an abrupt here-today-gone-tomorrow is essential, and employers have a huge role to play. From the moment we join the workforce we are bombarded with messages urging us to save for retirement, but never to plan for what we want. Company pension provision is often a huge source of this problem.

Saving just for the sake of it is of limited value. Ironically when we are clear on what we want out of life, it is easier to make smarter investment decisions. Yet little if any advice is given by companies to help employees develop future plans.

To enjoy a fruitful and healthy later life we must ensure we have continued purpose. This is well illustrated by the Japanese island of Okinawa where many people practice Ikigai, which can roughly be translated into ‘your reason for getting up in the morning’ – in other words, a purpose.

Japan is home to the largest number of centenarians per capita of any nation, Okinawa is home to the largest number in Japan. This is not a coincidence!


Key elements of Ikigai are to remain active and exercise, eat healthily, do not over-eat, remain socially connected and follow your passion. These are the key elements for a successful retirement in Britain too.

In the UK too many people simply save and wait and see if they can discover a passion, or purpose and many of course do nothing. Waiting to find out is a mistake. Thinking deeply about what you want to do is crucial; just deciding that more golf or gardening will do rarely covers it.

In fact, however enjoyable these things are, they are unlikely to provide you with purpose and they are not something you can do all day every day. 

This is a key area for businesses to help their employees address. Helping people think about and plan their whole life has the added benefits of not just improving their wellbeing, but also helping the business keep them employed in a useful role – breaking the ‘full time or nothing’ mindset too many managers still have.

Of increasing concern to businesses is the level of expertise that is being lost from Boomers and soon Gen X’ers reaching retirement age.

But don’t expect employees to ask for help from their employer – not only do we seem hardwired to only seek help when problems hit us, not before to prevent them, but there is also a trust issue; people fear broaching the subject of retirement will immediately lead to them being side-lined.

This can be addressed by HR and training teams providing support focussed on the non-financial aspects of retirement planning – and indeed by helping managers broach this subject with team members.

How many employees see their pension as something the employer is obligated to provide and are not engaged with the process? It is time to help people see their pension as an enabler of their future…and their future as something to look forward to. It is not a difficult problem to crack. 

For instance, running a series of workshops to help people discover more about themselves is a good forum to discuss how people can work more flexibly as they get older.

Companies need to rethink how they see retirement and encourage their employees to see it as an opportunity to discover what they really want out of life.


About the author

Michael Middleton is a director with Pro-Vision Lifestyles.



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