Earlier in the year I wrote a number of blogs about the 550,000 or so older workers who’d disappeared from the UK labour force over the time of the pandemic. Not much was then known about them except they weren’t appearing on payroll and weren’t getting picked up by the benefits system. They were and are economically inactive, spending not saving, resigned from the workforce either temporarily or for good.
Now the Office of National Statistics has come up with some information about what these people are or aren’t doing and what their long-term intentions might be.
A good Scot, with the Calvinistic work and savings ethic running like a watermark through him, Alistair McQueen has summed the report up so…
Lifting the lid on “the great resignation”. It has been driven by men; aged 55-59; in full time jobs; with degrees. It has been funded by private savings and pensions. It has been led by a fortunate few. It should not be interpreted as “the new normal”. https://t.co/Bf9eDon7Vu pic.twitter.com/Pu0NzAVLeB
— Alistair McQueen (@HelloMcQueen) March 14, 2022
This is what the Office of National Statistics has got to say…(in italics) and here I am giving my personal views (between each bullet)
In the period 8 to 13 February 2022, based on adults aged 50 to 70 years in Great Britain (GB) who have left or lost their job since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and not returned to work:
- The majority (77%) of adults aged 50 to 59 years said they left their previous job sooner than expected compared with 57% of adults aged 60 years and over.
For many of my contemporaries, work ended with a whimper rather than a bang, the carriage clock was little in evidence
- Compared with those aged 60 years and over, adults in their 50s were less likely to leave work for retirement (28%, compared with 56%), and more likely to give stress or mental health (19%, compared with 5%) or a change in lifestyle (14%, compared with 7%) as reasons for leaving work.
It looks as if most of those who resigned from work and were under 50 , did so because work no longer seemed what they wanted to do.
We left because we were tired of work and work became less important to us as our values changed. Covid forced a “re-set. But the over 50s and under 60s do not seem to have earned enough to stop working for good.
- Those aged 60 years and over were more likely to be funding their retirement or time out of work from a private pension (66%) than those in their 50s (29%).
Which suggests that the generational divide between the DB have and the DC have-nots is beginning to show, though how many of us really thought that our pension savings could support us through retirement, for many retiring on an average pot in our fifties, we can expect little more than a bridge to the state pension – or an inheritance.
- Men were more likely to use savings and investments to fund their retirement (51%) than women (33%), and women were more likely to receive financial support from a partner or family (26%) than men (10%).
The gender pay gap at work? Or is financial dependency a female strategy? Pay-back time for an adult life of caring – increasingly recognised in the divorce courts and by understanding partners.
- Those in their 50s were more likely to consider returning to work (58%) than those aged 60 years and over (31%).
This may seem to go against the “pension freedoms” but not against common sense. Does the idea of a sabbatical seem that frivolous? Are the boomers really taking a breather or actually packing it in?
- A job that suited their skills and experience was a more important consideration when looking for work for those aged under 60 years (54%) than those aged 60 years and over (38%).
There will no doubt be “tut-tutters” moaning about entitlement, but there are many of my generation who are asking serious questions about the value of (their) work.
- Those aged under 60 years were more likely to want to return to full-time work (15%), compared with those aged 60 years and over (3%).
The remarkable thing about this observation is that 85% of those under 60 had no intention of returning to full time work, while a massive 97% of those over 60 reckoned they wouldn’t see a full working week again. I can see why Alistair was showing signs of annoyance!
- Of those who would consider returning to work, flexible working was the most important aspect of choosing a new job (36%), followed by working from home (18%) and something that fits around caring responsibilities (16%).
It is interesting to think of men as carers, I know a number, including one of my brothers who are now their parent’s keepers. The workplace will be a different place going forward, offices and commuting will be for the young, but it will be interesting to see if this trend is replicated by those who work with their hands – for whom working from home has not been an option. The statistics suggest that it was primarily a white collared resignation.
- The majority of those who would consider returning to work or are currently looking for paid work would like to return on a part-time basis (69%); 21% said they would consider returning either part-time or full-time, and 9% said they would like to return full-time.
These numbers are percentages of a very small portion of those out of work. Full-time work for the vast majority of the 550,000 who have partaken in the “great resignation” doesn’t seem to be on the cards.
- Among those who have not returned to work, those who left work since the coronavirus pandemic were more likely to have increased worries around finances, such as the cost of living increasing (52%), lack of income or savings (26%), and money (32%), than those who left work before the coronavirus pandemic (44%, 21% and 25%, respectively).
This observation suggests that Covid did force some to reluctantly resign. There may be an element of long-covid about this. We have yet to fully understand the residual impact of the pandemic both on physical capacity and on the anxiety of people around “going back”.
Was the Great Resignation from privilege or pestilence?
Returning to Alistair’s mini-blog, there is evidence deeper into the work that the numbers are heavily skewed to those male graduates (like me) who can and against those non-graduate females (unlike me) who can’t.
But we always kind of knew that didn’t we. It would be nice to think that a fairy could sprinkle some dust over systemic inequalities that exist between graduates and non-graduates, men and women , black and white and generational cohorts.
It is however easier to observe these inequalities than to address them. They are what they are and the life lessons we learn are that we should try to give equal opportunity to all.
In the meantime, it’s beholden on lucky people like me , to make the most of our good fortune by sharing our prosperity with others – as befits the good fortune which we have been given. Entitlement is not the word – good fortune is the phrase.
Whether the great resignation was from good fortune or from the plague of Covid, the great resignation does not look like the new normal, though for most of those who have resigned from full time labour, there looks little prospect that the old normal will return.