A black and white image showing Pete smiling

Pete's Story

The world of work has changed enormously since Pete Domican began his career at ICI. The ‘jobs for life’ and final salary schemes have largely disappeared. So has ICI. Pete has spent the past 23 years working as a consultant focusing on strategy and transformation. He feels that business is not set up to support an ageing population, and that is a problem not just for older people but businesses and society.

 As a society, we need to be encouraging businesses to offer a more flexible way of working for older people.

"Many will also have other financial obligations. People are having children later who may be going to university or trying to get on the housing ladder.  

"The government needs us to work later too. While living longer, we’re also likely to spend time in ill-health, which needs to be paid for, as do pensions. However, merely raising the pension age and hoping for the best won’t work if companies won’t employ older workers.

"Businesses need to be employing older workers. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to hire younger people due to lower birth rates and less immigration. Yet many companies don’t seem to have fully grasped the problem nor the opportunity.

"Many seem to regard older workers as a liability. Companies may say they don’t discriminate, but you only need to go into an office and look around. We've made some progress with ethnicity and gender equality, but workplace ageism remains problematic.

"Recruitment processes don’t help. They’re geared to regular career progression, which works when you're in your 20s and 30s. As people get older and take time off to care for children and older relatives, or have any gap in their career, they begin to not ‘fit’.

"Employers are wary of giving applicants feedback in case of litigation, so often you’ll hear nothing back at all. Occasionally they might say things like ‘you’re overqualified’. This may or may not be ageism, but there’s certainly a correlation between age and experience!

"Another phrase heard often is ‘cultural fit’. If you have a team of young people, then I guess employing somebody who's in their 50s or 60s may feel like working with your dad.

"Job adverts sometimes say ‘we have a ‘work hard, play hard culture’. That usually means regular nights out and often a drinking culture. As you get older, you're not going to want that because you may have family responsibilities or simply that the hangovers get worse! This is off-putting for many who have a huge contribution to make, but need to be given the chance.

"Beyond recruitment is the issue of retention and specifically ‘burnout’. In many organisations now, the pace of work is relentless. If you've worked in a profession for 30 years and the choice is that you continue to run at 200 miles an hour or you leave, then eventually you are going to leave. We see this most visibly in the NHS and teaching where huge experience walks out of the door. All this is reflected nationally in the UK’s poor productivity.

"We can say that these are ‘corporate cultures’ into which older workers don’t fit. Alternatively we can say that these are cultures that organisations choose to construct discriminating cultures. This needs to change and, as a society, we need to be encouraging businesses to offer a more flexible way of working for older people.

"We’re becoming used to making accommodations for people with disabilities so they can work effectively, and we need to think about creating an equivalent for older people. That could be around reducing the number of hours e.g. allowing part time works or role sharing. Remote working can cut down or reduce long commutes that are physically draining.

"It’s not difficult to think about how technology and best remote practices such as asynchronous working could be utilised so people are able to work at a level that is sensible for their circumstances and so that organisations benefit from experience.

"Throwing away years of experience because someone is over 50, 60, 70 makes no sense in a modern economy if they’re capable and willing to work. It’s bad for individuals and it’s bad for the economy. We have a demographic time bomb, and the clock is running down."