Career Innovation: The Ageing Time Bomb – Threat or Opportunity?

Rosemary McLean, Director at the Career Innovation Company, reflects on supporting careers in later life.


Our notions of retirement and ageing are being redefined; in many countries people over 50 are becoming the predominant group, and we are living longer. So what does this mean for society, for employers, professional bodies and individuals alike, as we contemplate a 100 year life?

The first thing to say is that ‘retirement’ is a relatively recent concept – coming with the introduction of pensions just over 100 years ago. Prior to that – and for some working in small businesses today – people carried on working until they ‘dropped’. But for many there is the expectation and yearning for a time of leisure and relaxation. This ideal is being challenged by two factors; financial and aspirational.

Financial hits

The finances of retiring are no longer straightforward, with goal posts changing around state pension provision, the reduction in final salary pensions, concerns about funding social care and the need to support dependents. Increased part-time working and zero hours contracts mean some find it harder to save towards a pension. The question might now be ‘Can I afford to retire?’. There is also evidence of age discrimination; people in their 50’s who have a break from work find it harder to get back into employment. This rather depressing picture is one we should all be concerned about, with the prospect of financial hardship in old age for many.

A stimulating life

On the other side, many people – who can afford it- aspire to a rewarding period of pre-retirement, a time when they can continue doing meaningful work, combined with other interests.  A ‘gap year’ for older people is becoming a common idea. Employers recognise the expertise of older workers and are finding ways of leveraging this, via mentoring for example. Many older workers want to continue growing their career full-time, and have no intention of slowing down – though they can feel pressure to make way for younger colleagues and not be career ‘blockers’. And those in retirement don’t always find it to be the ideal they dreamed of.

Career innovation age blog

So how might we respond to this complex picture?

Whilst parts of the picture seem bleak, there are opportunities for older people to re-skill and take advantage of gaps in the labour market. Governments do have strategies  – the ‘mid-career’ review project was set up to provide life and career planning to older workers.

Many employers are developing flexible and partial retirement options, and positive attitudes to employing and developing older workers. Some provide life and career planning to help employees make positive transitions.

Professional bodies can extend the support they give members, as life and career extend; lifelong learning is the mantra. But what advice can professional bodies offer?

Start now – futureproof your life and career whatever your age!

Life & career planning

Build the habit of managing your career. Life and career reflection is an ongoing process, keeping you focused on what brings you career satisfaction, and revisiting career needs at different life stages. Make time to review what’s working well, what you’d like to do more of, consider aspirations for the future. Build your support network; those who can help you identify strengths and areas for development, and achieve your goals.

Continue to learn & grow your experience and skills

It’s easy to get stuck doing the same sort of work, especially when you have built expertise over many years. Be open to new possibilities and emerging needs, and try to step out of your ‘comfort zone’ to try new things in work and your wider professional community – and outside of your career. Being adaptable and up to date makes you attractive to employers for longer and helps with mental longevity.

Keep abreast of the predicted changes arising from the 4th Industrial Revolution, and the skills and opportunities that will emerge.

Do the maths!

Don’t bury your head in the sand! Take charge of your finances; check your pension forecast, consider your financial needs over time. How long might you want to support dependents, what sort of lifestyle do you want in later life? Consider taking professional financial advice.


Ageing well is underpinned by health and well-being, and more evidence is emerging about how we can build physical and mental capabilities. Our brain has the capacity to continue to learn new things, but you need to flex it. Why not get a regular health check, and do small things that make a difference to your overall levels of fitness and well-being.

Be part of a community

For many work provides a sense of belonging and identity – others find this through their professional community, extended family and outside interests. Another consideration is thinking about the community you want to ‘retire into’. Loneliness can be a real problem for older people. Where might you want to live?  What sort of people do you want to be with? What activities might you want to access?

It’s all about transitions

A career in hindsight will show that in part it’s about how you manage transitions; moving from one stage to another, which is unique to you. When and how you decide to change aspects of your life and career can be driven by you, but it may need you to break out and reinvent yourself.

The Career Innovation Company works with membership organisations worldwide, putting in place large-scale online support for professional and career development. Their flagship services  – –  and –  Be Bold in your Career –  enable members to develop their careers within their professional community.

For help on creating career strategies, late career planning, online career development courses, tools and resources, please go to, or connect with us @careerinnovator or LinkedIn.

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