Securing your retirement finances could mean being flexible at work

Being able to work for as long as you need in order to secure a financially secure retirement could become a lot easier after new employment laws come into force in April, writes Tony Watts OBE. But it will require flexibility from employers as well as employees.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley,” wrote Robert Burns some 240 years ago. And while the great Scottish poet may not have been specifically thinking about planning one’s retirement in the 21st century when he penned those words, they are still very relevant.

Because no matter how carefully you might think you’ve plotted the course for your employment and savings leading up to retirement, having to give up work because of failing health or the need to care for a relative can mean vital years spending your savings rather than boosting them – with huge implications for the future.

However, some upcoming legislation could act as a lifeline for many people facing this dilemma. Because The Flexible Working Act, which comes into force this April, gives employees far greater rights over being able to work the hours they want. That could mean doing shorter hours or different patterns – including part-time, term-time, compressed hours, or adjusted start and finish times.

That flexibility can also include where someone works, whether that be from home or a satellite office. Moreover, employees not only have the right to request flexible work, but employers must consider any request.

Making it work

Why should employers want to help make this happen? The argument here is that they will be able to retain (or recruit) the talent and experience of older workers who can bring their years of work to the table at a time when getting hold of talent is extremely difficult.

Of course, asking an employer to make all of the concessions isn’t necessarily the best way to reach an amicable solution. But compromise can be possible once both sides recognise the potential mutual benefits.

It may be that the role of the older worker needs to change – and that might mean being lower paid, or taking on more of a mentorship role. It might involve retraining or reskilling.

Employers themselves retain some right to refuse requests for flexibility, but they have to explain the reasons behind their decision. Previously, they could deny any request for without explanation. But the groundswell within the business sector is decidedly moving in the direction of employers recognising that they can ill afford to lose older talent.

Why employers are starting to listen

The recent “Flexible After Fifty” report from the 50+ Choices Roundtable, which includes the CIPD and the British Chamber of Commerce among its members, has called more flexibility to help the three-quarters of the over-50 workforce who would like it – andhelp the UK avoid what it describes as a “looming retirement crisis”.

The report found that some 72% of over-50s were seeking flexible work to achieve a better work-life balance, with more than a third (34%) citing caregiving responsibilities and a desire for more personal time. Already a third of them are working part-time work, while rates of home-working among the over-50s have shot up from 10% in 2020 to 22.4% in 2023, and flexi-time is used by 12.9% of over-50s in work.

In the words of Andy Briggs, UK government business champion for older workers and group CEO of Phoenix Group: “We must capitalise on this generation’s skills and knowledge to help individuals, businesses, and the economy to flourish.”

And as he goes on to confirm: “Many people aged over 50 face significant shortfalls in their pension savings, so helping them to stay in good work and reduce the pension savings gap is essential. This allows them to continue building their savings, and helps avoid a looming retirement crisis, amid widespread under-saving.”

So rather than give up work entirely and face financial precarity in retirement, perhaps the best option would be to open up a conversation with your employer about a more flexible future…

Tony Watts OBE is the co-author of “The Midlife Review: A guide to work, wealth and wellbeing”,

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