50 and going strong: The journey from 'mid-life career crisis' to 'mid-life career opportunity
Nearly a third of 50 to 65-year-olds are unemployed, according to a research. About a million of them had to leave jobs because of redundancy, caring responsibilities or ill-health. While the trend is most common in western countries with aging population like the US and UK, in Asian countries including Japan, Singapore and India many in their 50s experience what we can refer to as a mid-life crisis. Some are tired of working for many years and now seek a break, some wish to continue work but explore something different, and then there are others for whom employment is more of a need than a luxury.
The way people look at retirement has completely changed over the years. From dreaming about living in a farmhouse, gardening and watching TV, and other stereotypical ways of living the life after retirement to now switching careers in 50s and looking for new employment avenues for another undefined years of life.
Even for business and HR leaders, how they prepare the employees for retirement and look at succession planning has to change now. There is a need to revisit HR policies, from hiring to learning and development and make them flexible enough to cater to the varied needs of how employees in their 50s need to plan their career ahead.
Redesigning recruitment: For employees switching careers in 50s
Most of the employees in 50s are from the generation famously referred to as ‘Baby Boomer’. If we look from a stereotypical lens, baby boomers were mostly pushed into the employment market driven more by the need to work than their passion or most of them discovered their passion much later in life or their interests changed as they moved ahead in their professional journey. Now while these seem to be stereotypical perceptions restricted to only the baby boomers, such scenarios could hold true for employees from any generation. Hence, hiring based on age becomes completely out of the question.
“For organizations, rather than focusing on just age, it is important to evaluate the complete value proposition that a candidate brings to the job role in question - experience, skills, aptitude and perhaps the most important, how the candidate fits in with the company culture, should all be weighed upon.” said Gauri Padmanabhan, Partner at Heidrick & Struggles.
Anjali Raghuvanshi, Chief People Officer, Randstad India echoed the same thought. “The focus while hiring is no longer on age but more on capability,” she said.
In fact, Padmanabhan highlighted that in a few countries discrimination based on age is also against the law. While the economies and the government are still to catch up on introducing such progressive laws, organizations who seek to lead the way through future of work should definitely welcome such policies.
Beyond changing the talent strategies, organizations would have to disrupt the culture also a bit and create an inclusive workplace for employees of all ages. Interventions to educate people to not discriminate might be needed
Further, redesigning recruitment strategies is also critical from the point of view of employees who wish to continue to work even after the expected retirement age, ‘60s’. Some might wish to continue in the same company but explore other role or create a different role altogether for themselves. Given these scenarios, would the companies’ policies be flexible enough to cater to these needs of the employee? Not only from employees’ perspective, but even from the organization’s perspective, it might need these experienced professionals who bring in so much knowledge and hold immense potential to help the company achieve its vision. How would the availability of an experienced in house pool in such case impact an organization’s manpower requirements? Job roles would have to be redesigned and the various elements considered while calculating the manpower requirements have to be expanded to address the changing employment needs and priorities of employees in their 50s.
Continuous learning: The ultimate solution
Whether we take the case of an employee switching career in 50s or someone exploring a different or same role in the company, learning is imperative. “The conversation needs to move away from the age factor to the learning factor,” reiterated Padmanabhan. She believes that age is just a number, what matters is one’s energy, passion and learning agility; the ability to learn new skills, technologies and adapt to new environment.
Back in October 2018, the IT major Cognizant had laid off around 200 of its senior employees at the director level on grounds of them not being tech savvy. It was not about age but more about the inability to adapt to the changing needs of business.
“Employers don’t lay off employees because they are old but because they are complacent,”said Raghuvanshi. Complacency doesn’t come with age and neither does the drive to learn. The world’s smartest and busiest people including the older ones like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett find one hour a day for deliberate learning.
Leaders like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett lead by example and show how age is only a number and drive to create an impact is all that matters. Leaders like these have got so far by consistent efforts. They have updated their skills and adopted to the rapidly changing environment to ensure that they not only move ahead with time but in some cases lead the way.
In 2017, Brian Duperreault, then 70 years old, was named CEO by American International Group. Given how hard it is for anyone over the age of 50 to get a new job due to persistent discrimination based on age in the workplace, these business leaders instill some hope in the current workforce in their 50s and highlight the opportunity for employers. The career planning for employees approaching their 50s should, hence, begin way in advance. HR leaders can help identify the high potentials and the employees who are willing to work for longer time. The roles they are interested in should be identified and accordingly the required skills should be mapped to frame an effective and relevant learning strategy for them.
Learning is the ultimate solution to stay relevant in the fast changing world of work.
It's all in the mind: Creating an inclusive culture
Beyond changing the talent strategies, organizations would have to disrupt the culture also a bit and create an inclusive workplace for employees of all ages. Interventions to educate people to not discriminate might be needed. Further, multiple generations should be educated about the benefits of working with each other.
Raghuvanshi has in fact observed that at Randstad India, the generational diversity at work benefits the entire organization and impacts the work dynamics positively.
The bottom line is: break the age old silos and welcome the possibility of a 55 year old intern working for a 20 year old CEO. The scenario showcased in the Hollywood movie ‘The Intern’ is not so fictional anymore. So accept the reality and convert ‘mid life career crisis’ into ‘mid life career opportunity’.