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Age is just a number

9 Dec 2021

Last night someone sent me a video of Laird Hamilton, a big wave surfer, talking about one of his injuries. In what can only be described as the ramblings of a madman, Laird explains that he’s broken his ankle three times. Though that’s probably not particularly surprising if you’re going to throw yourself down 20ft walls of water, his approach to recovery really is; Laid hasn’t received any medical attention for any of these injuries. As a result, his ankle is now 3x bigger than it should be, a big solid mass of bone that you can’t help but gawk at when he lifts it in front of the camera.

Though I’m not surfing big waves (any waves for that matter) or challenging the basics of western medicine, my own body is starting to show the battle wounds of old age. Last weekend, mid golf swing, my ankle blew. And a couple of years ago, skiing, I did something similar to my shoulder. Though my ankle will probably recover in a couple of weeks, all that’s holding my shoulder together today are a few hardy ligaments.

Learning doesn’t stop

My mind, on the other hand, has never been stronger and I think part of this is down to the fact that I’m still learning. By that, what I really mean is… I’m still making mistakes and I’m still taking risks.

Despite the fact that I see myself working at Octopus into old age, the business is a young company. The average age of our employees is 34 and that number is dropping as we grow. It’s not just a problem at Octopus, of those within the employment age-range, there are 407,000 unemployed over-50s in the UK, making up over 1 in 4 unemployed people. And over 50s are two and a half times as likely than under 50s to be unemployed for at least two years.

What’s probably more worrying is the amount of money most people have saved for retirement. 1 in 6 over 55s have no pension savings yet, and by the time they are 65 half of men and a third of women are still in employment, so it’s more important than ever that there are job opportunities for the over 50s.

Progression

One of our Octopus alumni left to set up a business called Rest Less a couple of years back. They’re doing more than just provide job opportunities for the over 50’s, they’re creating a whole community for this generation through their peer-to-peer platform.

The statistics prove an interesting point – talent doesn’t get old. Prior to the pandemic, 80% of employment growth in the UK came from workers over the age of 50. What’s more, employees aged 65+ have happier relationships with their line managers and feel more respected at work. Research even shows that there’s a ‘happiness premium’ among older workers in full-time employment which is double those not working in their later life.

I think a big part of this comes down to progress. In our youth it’s something we take for granted. Careers, lifestyles, families, friends, everything is new and everything demonstrates progression. This process in itself is fulfilling, and though we might think that we’re working towards something, in my own experience the end goal rarely brings with it nearly as much enjoyment as the process involved with getting there.

Finding progression in our later life becomes less obvious, careers plateau, children fly the nest, and generally (aside from Laird Hamilton) our physical health starts to deteriorate. When people step out into their local community, find volunteering opportunities, employment or start building new relationships it restarts that process.

Hiring the over 50’s should be no different from hiring under 30’s, the focus should be on progression. Companies like Rest Less understand that and are breaking down a long held belief that past the age of 50, people just want to put their feet up…I couldn’t think of anything worse.

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