Want to carry on working in good health? Try thinking flexibly!

When do you plan to retire? Whatever age it is, you’ll want to reach that point in good health in order to enjoy your retirement to the full. Changing the way you work could just help you do that… By Tony Watts OBE

Covid 19 brought a lot of changes to the way we live and work… and a few of them have continued.

One of them is “flexible working” – by which we’re talking a variety of ways of doing your job outside of being in work 9 to 5, five days a week. Working from home during the pandemic, employees switched on to the fact that here was a way in which their work/life balance could be considerably improved; and employers, once the continued (or even improved) productivity of staff was recognised, learned to start trusting their employees.

Older workers in particular have benefited from this shift, especially those who may have other pressing priorities – such as caring responsibilities – or who simply find that the commute led them to being weary by the time they got to the desk.

Now new research has shown just how good for your health flexible working can be: in fact, it may actually lower employees’ risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Penn State University.

How good? In those workplaces that implemented interventions designed to reduce conflict between employees’ work and their personal/family lives, researchers found that employees at higher baseline cardiometabolic risk, particularly older workers, reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by the equivalent of five to 10 years.

Basically, if your employer doesn’t stress when you try and fit in other pressing appointments or commitments, and they’re happy for you to make up the time later, you yourself don’t end up getting stressed – with all the accompanying health implications. What’s more, say the researchers, being more flexible in this way didn’t have any negative impact on staff productivity.

The research used a pretty hefty sample – 1,528 employees – and they also found that working in a stressful environment raises the risk of a heart attack or stroke, which between them cause around 160,000 deaths a year in the UK: that’s a disturbing 460 a day.

So what might “flexible” look like for you?

There’s been plenty of talk in the media about the “Great Retirement” that Covid heralded, with many older employees giving up work entirely. That has subsequently led to the “Great Unretirement”, with many of these early retirees finding that the cost-of-living crisis means the sums no longer add up.

But there are other, less binary ways to approach this – and which can benefit employers as well as employees by enabling older workers to keep contributing to the workplace… but on their terms. One is going part time (working shorter or fewer days); another is taking on a less demanding role within an organisation; yet another is job sharing with younger employees who are trying to fit in work with raising children.

All of these, and many more options, can keep people working (and earning) for longer than they might do if they slogged on… before poor health forced them to leave the workplace. Around half a million people who have retired early cite a health condition for doing so.

Critically, this more flexible approach means their employers retain the talents of their senior personnel at a time when talent is in short supply, and their experience is something that simply cannot be replaced.

So if you think that easing back slightly (or working flexibly to fit in your other responsibilities) would help you to keep earning for longer, perhaps now is the time to consider taking a “Midlife MOT” or “Midlife Review” as it is sometimes called. That involves you and your employer having an open conversation about what might work best for you both going forward.

You can find out more about how the Government is supporting this concept here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dwp-launches-new-midlife-mot-website

And if you want to delve into the topic further, here’s a book I co-wrote earlier setting out the benefits to employers and employees, and how to go about starting a conversation.

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