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What Next? The Fear of the Career after 50

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Experts say fear could be keeping over 50s from returning to work, as economic inactivity (the number of people not in the labour force) amongst 50-64 year olds remains eight times higher than pre-pandemic levels.

50-64 year olds comprise a staggering 71% (298,429 of 422,241) of all economically inactive people (between the ages of 16-64) in the UK, according to data from December 2022-February 2023 released as part of the Labour Force Survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This figure has declined from the record high of 386,096 economically inactive 50-64 year olds recorded in May-July 2022. Whilst the decline suggests incentives to encourage people in this age demographic to return to work, such as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Spring Budget ‘returnships’, are having some effect, the latest ONS findings represent a big problem, nonetheless.

There are a number of reasons why those aged over 50 may be reluctant to re-join the workforce, from individuals who are suffering with long-term sickness, to those who have chosen to enjoy an early retirement. One factor, however, that has perhaps been overlooked, is that fear could be preventing many over 50s from returning to work.

Career and talent management experts, Right Management, suggest that ‘career fear’ amongst over 50s relates to feeling left behind and not having a clear role within an organisation’s workforce.

Sarah Hernon, Principal Consultant at Right Management said: “We hear first-hand from over 50s that several factors cause anxiety when it comes to finding new employment. Many of their fears stem from the notion of [not] being able to keep up, whether that’s with younger generations coming through who are more fluent in the latest technologies, or with demanding work schedules, workplace cultures, and so on.

“We also see a lot of over 50s concerned with [not] knowing where they’ll fit in within an organisation. The expectation of careers is that you work your way up the ladder, but for someone over 50 who has been economically inactive for a period and is now considering a return to work, the whole concept of starting again can be really daunting. So, there’s the fear of not knowing where they’ll fit into that structure within an organisation.

“It appears there is a wide-ranging lack of confidence amongst many in this age group, but it is often hidden from plain sight. Just like younger employees entering the labour market for the first time, those aged over 50 are also looking for reassurance that they can play an important role, in whichever position they step into.”

It’s clear that over 50s can add great value to organisations, with a wealth of knowledge and experience gleaned over their careers and lives. Right Management advise those in this age demographic to request flexible working before taking on a role, and to challenge their own fears of not being able to keep up.

“Over 50s, or later careers as we refer to them, are at risk of underselling themselves. They need to know how much good organisations will value wisdom, expertise and experience, particularly to provide a suitable balance alongside those Gen Z workers who are just starting their careers.

“Employers meanwhile, should be ensuring they are creating an environment that meets the needs of a multigenerational workforce ,aligned with those at different stages of their career. Those who are unable to do so will miss out on gaining valuable skills, perspectives and insights for their business.”

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