Reimagining work and retirement  

18 January 2023

Between 2015 and 2050, the global population of those aged 60 plus will almost double. Increasing numbers of people are living up to 30 years longer than previous generations – and they are looking for a different later life too.

A massive demographic shift is underway, and it presents a huge challenge for employers as they seek ways to realign working practices and ‘retirement’ with the new reality of what workforces want.

Mercer’s latest Global Talent Trends data shows that just 16% of employees - down from 25% just three years ago – intend to stop working completely at retirement age. A massive 84% anticipate continuing to work, in some cases reducing hours, phasing into retirement, or simply playing it by ear. The data reveals that many employees want to stay in work to keep their mental agility, fill their time or maintain a sense of purpose, but it is not all about lifestyle choices: almost two-fifths (38%) are driven by financial concerns.

Indeed, Mercer is working with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to address the issue of financial resilience for our rapidly ageing global population, and it was one of the subjects under discussion at the 2022 WEF summit in Davos.

Flexible retirement – are you age ready?

What’s happening with flexible retirement in Ireland?

Flexibility at work is quickly becoming a staple of modern working life.  Flexible employment arrangements are now a key part of supporting workforce wellbeing and engagement, as highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Flexibility in how we retire as well as how we work is also becoming an increasingly important issue.  Managing retirement needs in a workforce has traditionally been a relatively straightforward exercise:  employers knew that employees could remain in the organisation until they reached retirement age, at which point they would leave and draw down their occupational and State pension.  For many employees, retirement was an important and long-anticipated goal.

In Ireland, these norms are changing.

  •  For employees, being financially able to retire is being put into sharp focus by cost of living considerations and a realisation that pension benefits may not be sufficient to provide an adequate retirement income.
  • For employers, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to avoid age discrimination issues – employers cannot enforce contractual retirement ages without a clear objective justification.
  • But perhaps most importantly, the government has also indicated that it is moving towards promoting a more flexible retirement environment, recently announcing measures to come into force in 2024 that would give employees the legal right to continue working until the current State pension age of 66, as well as the option to work beyond State pension age and receive a higher State pension.

These factors are all contributing to the growing trend of employees looking to work for longer and to have more flexible retirement arrangements.  Employers are having to consider not just how they deal with requests from employees to work for longer but also what implications this might have for staff policies, employee benefit programmes, and even how workforces and workplaces might need to be adapted to accommodate this.

Why does being age-ready matter?

Understanding how, or whether, to accommodate older workers in the workplace is vital.  We believe that where an employer is properly age-ready, it will be able to:

  • Develop and operate a suitable flexible retirement policy
  • Ensure that benefit programmes are fit for purpose
  • Maximise operational effectiveness and capitalise on the experience provided by older workers
  • Increase knowledge-sharing and strengthen collaboration among workers
  • Ensure fairness, equity and inclusivity across the workforce, and potentially avoid litigation risks
  • Better align the workforce with the future needs of the business

It is also vital that employment benefit programmes are flexible enough to accommodate and be consistent with the employer’s policy.

For example, in many cases, pension and death benefit schemes continue to operate in accordance with a conventional retirement age of 65 which is increasingly out of line with employment practices.

Also, schemes may not be properly optimised to take account of the various options that may be available to employees in relation to accessing or deferring payment of retirement benefits.

Insured benefits are also a significant consideration, for example, is it possible to extend income protection or death benefits to older workers?

There are a number of key questions employers should consider at the outset:

  • Do you have many employees who are approaching their existing retirement age in your organisation over the next 5 to 10 years?  
  • Do you have existing policies on longer working and flexible retirement?  Are those policies clear?  Do you have appropriate communication strategies in place?
  • Have you analysed the extent to which your benefits packages, particularly your pension plan and risk benefits, might be impacted by your approach to longer working?
  • Do you know the extent to which your approach to longer working is aligned with other employers in your sector?
  • Have you ever considered how the skills and experiences of older workers could or should be used in your organisation?
  • Have you considered the wider workforce planning issues that will arise where you accommodate older employees in the workplace?  

How can Mercer help you?

There are a number of ways in which our team of specialist advisers can help you navigate the challenges presented by longer working to achieve the solution that works best for you and your employees.
  • Future of work

    We can help you to identify the skills, culture and working methods that your organisation will need in the future, aligning with your strategic direction and using our knowledge of the way in which the world of work is changing. Our assessment tools can identify current workforce skills and any skills gaps that may exist.
  • Practice and policy

    We can help you assess your longer working challenge and identify where you may be exposed to risks. We can analyse your existing programmes to help you update them for a more inclusive future and show how to design and roll out your longer working policy.
  • Benefits

    Using our expertise in pensions and other employee benefits consulting, as well as our database of industry insights, we can advise you on the suitability of your benefits arrangements as part of the proposed longer working policy and how they might be optimised.
  • Communications

    Employee engagement will be critical when you are implementing changes to, or introducing new, policies and processes. We can assist with putting together an appropriate communications plan that will help you achieve buy-in to the new policies from all key stakeholders and employees.
Research shows that increasing numbers of employees want to continue in work to support a longer post-retirement phase. It is now vital that employers are in a position to respond appropriately to such requests
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