The Quiet Man reckons we want to all work till we’re 70? Dream on…

Iain Duncan-Smith has all the charisma of a dead fish, but he does come across as genuinely thoughtful, which is why he made such a poor candidate for leader of the opposition all those years ago. That thoughtfulness seems to have deserted him when he comes up with the assertion that “Most workers want to work on when they reach 65”

Well, Iain me old chum, this worker has no desire to do that, and there’s not much call for it amongst my colleagues either πŸ™‚ I guess it all depends what IDS means by “want”, obviously if their personal finances mean that due to his raising of the State pension age they will be skint then people will want to work on, in the same way as if he points a gun at your head you are likely to “want” to do whatever the nice man says…

Then of course what people want and what people can actually do are not always the same thing, and as Fiona Phillips is trailing in Finished at Fifty they may not get the opportunity. If you are one of the finished at fifty, this graph will show you why

UK Population distribution by age

Now look at the lump in this at 46 and add three years (because it was from 2009) and you can see that there are an awful lot of people in their 50s in the next decade. Now they will probably not all be dying off in the next decade, so they will still be there πŸ˜‰ An awful lot of these will be KO’d in the public sector cuts – of the expected 400,000 60% will be over 50, so about a quarter of a million over 50s will flood the workplace.

So if you’re over 50, you need to look at this situation and start building some resilience into your personal finances, because realistically, if you lose or leave your job you aren’t going to be working for an employer again. Period.

I had to have a laugh at the tosspot Digby Jones’ solutions:

older workers are at real risk of being forced out of the workforce into an unwelcome – and under-funded – retirement before they are ready after enjoying a bountiful job market throughout their 30s and 40s.

He said that while the economy continues to shed jobs at every age and level, he believes many older workers have become set in their ways and that could turn into a barrier to finding employment.

“Have any of them thought of emigrating? What about being mobile within Britain?”

He also said some need to think of retraining and volunteering as a way to keep in the habit of going to work. Perhaps more painfully, he said the idea of accepting substantial pay cuts cannot be ruled out.

Digby, me old mate, you’re a bright chap so there’s much truth in what you say, but a lot of BS too. Let’s deal with the BS first – the reason these guys aren’t emigrating or moving around the UK is perhaps because they have children and family commitments πŸ˜‰Β  You’re 55, Digby, perhaps the absence of any fruit of your loins means you miss that bit of the typical human life cycle, but I have enough feeling for my fellow-men that I can see it though I haven’t had kids! If you are going to emigrate or move around, do it in your 20s or early 30s, not in your 40s or 50s. Or do it in your 60s, when you’ve done with working for a living.

On the other hand some of the other stuff he says has some point though. You get more cantankerous and intolerant of BS as you get older, partly because you’ve heard the same lies too many times before – hello “empowering employees”, “performance management”, “corporate social responsibility”, “this reorganisation is unlike the others that failed and will change everything”. And partly because you come to realise work isn’t all that. It pays the bills, it isn’t a reason for living. Repeat after me, Diggers, “people work to live, they do not live to work

The increasingly rotten state of the workplace as digital Taylorism expunges most of the joy in doing a good job takes its toll, in some ways having started work where this was not so prevalent makes me kick against the increasing systematisation and deskilling of the workplace more because I know what has been lost, whereas someone starting now at least doesn’t have the reference point.

Perhaps ’twas ever thus. President Obama called out this rotting of the modern workplace independently of me. He’s 49 so perhaps he is one of these crabby old gits too πŸ˜‰

“some need to think of retraining and volunteering as a way to keep in the habit of going to work” Digby, you show your evil Calvinist heart of darkness there. How about the alternative, get a hold of your personal finances, save, retire early and enjoy life out of the rat race?

What the hell is the point of keeping in the habit of going to work when you ain’t going to get any? By the time you are 50, the sands of time are running out, and you don’t want to waste those grains on empty promises. There will never be full employment again in Britain while globalisation and industrial capitalism holds sway.

Digby, you may well be part of the solution but your sort and the CBI are a huge part of the problem too.Β  You have been busy automating and deskilling and downsizing and outsourcing. No one of those things is necessarily wrong in any given situation but it all adds up the the great sucking force of British jobs as capital accretes power and seeks to maximise its return. Yes, it’s what I am also trying to do with my share portfolio but I don’t stand up and claim that I am trying to improve the British employment scene, or spout garbage to try and offer solutions in places they aren’t to be found.

In your late 40’s or 50’s? Batten down those hatches, nobody else is going to look after you

If you are in your late forties or fifties and in employment, then you are in danger territory. Your best hope of a solution to being downsized or made redundant isn’t to find another job at a similar salary. It is to rightsize your life and downsize your financial commitments. Live smaller, cut the foreign holidays and Jemima’s ballet lessons. She’ll prefer it if you’re able to carry on paying the mortgage after you get the push.

Your job as the head(s) of your household is to keep a roof over your family’s head and bread on their plate, and people like Digby Jones and his CBI chums are busy trying to eliminate your job if you work in the private sector. If you work in the public sector then you already know that the Coalition is trying to destroy your job to save money. Volunteering isn’t the solution, rightsizing your financial commitments and maximising your savings is.

Hark, listen out to that distant ringing over-50s, and send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee, so cut the needless expenses from your life and buy yourself some freedom. Don’t be a chump and just because you may be sitting pretty at the moment like Lord Young said, don’t ignore the precariousness of your financial situation.

Iain Duncan Smith is the harbinger of doom. He’s telling you what is going to happen to you if you don’t take corrective action. Your job is show him where to stick it πŸ˜‰ Unless, of course, you agree with him, and do want to carry on working till you’re 70, but even then don’t necessarily think of earning your current salary…

Why I don’t want to work till I’m 70

The original case for retirement was that people were in manual jobs and were physically worn out by 65. Digby Jones reckons people ossify and fail to adapt to change as they get older. I’m not sure either apply to me.

I was into engineering as a kid – it was a world where science and technology were changing things rapidly, I was in primary school when they landed men on the Moon. I loved it, and did well enough at school and university, I wanted to work in a electronics design/research facility. Britain still had those everywhere then. I worked for a small company, then the BBC and then moved to my current company.

The structure of the big companies was great for a young tyke learning – there were guys who were fantastic experts in their field and if there were issues you could tap these guys up. In my early to mid days of working, companies had teams of expertise in different areas, at the BBC there was audio, RF and video expertise in designs and it was fascinating and exciting to learn and improve the art, from the design folk all the way to craft skills like the guys who wired things with a precision and elegance that I can’t even match today. And a hat tip to my current company, which had world-leading experts from whom I also learned, and a graceful working structure where expertise was acknowledged and the young pups were nurtured.

I still love engineering, though in the passage up the greasy pole I inevitably do less of it, but I have retained a far more hands on and specialised presence, because I didn’t race up that pole, so I didn’t go say the project management route.

So on that basis I’m with IDS – it is something I love, I can’t imagine not looking for better ways of doing things just because the day comes that I reach my 65th (or 70th) birthday. So why the hell do I want to finish off in my early 50s?

It is because I have seen a toxic and evil cancer seeping through the structure of my company, the foul stench of Digital Taylorism. The previous world of divisions aligned by expertise was stable enough that you could build skills and a reputation. Engineers never make great line managers but they do admire competence, and so it was possible to advance and do more challenging work.

Some of this changed with digitisation of audio and video, but that opened up new areas one could hone one’s craft, and there was the whole world of software to go into. But management of people began to change, with the emphasis on interchangeable skills, treating people as tools in a toolbox, anonymous numbering by ‘skill sets’. There were even three, yes, count ’em, three attempts over ten years to have a skills database so that work would come in and the database could tell you who was due to become available wheen, the emphasis began to shift to accredited skills and tosh like that. Before, the group/divisional head would know who was good at what, and allocate work accordingly, of course always balancing the usual issues of too much work and not enough people. It was a human sized operation and it worked well, but the shift to ‘resource allocation’ on workpackages broke the whole system, and there were a couple of insane attempts to separate line management from job management. This totally changed the working environment.

The last straw was the perversion called performance management – where you have to fill in a form claiming evidence of particular characteristics. How I yearn for the old ways where my work stood for my competence. As Matthew Crawford said in Why Office Work Is Bad For You, you can tell a good carpenter by the way his doors move smoothly and are set well in the doorway. A good electrician’s lights come on when you throw the switch and aren’t accompanied by a shower of sparks.

My work can speak for itself, by the time you are in the last decade of your working life you have got enough competence to know what you’re about. But because the line management structure has been smashed I was line managed previously by a twit who had no idea of what I did. He was a box-ticker and wanted me to fill in boxes with competencies and rubbish like that.

I have no respect for that sort of way of carrying on, and in the search to automate and systematize and outsource all integrity has been lost – I have occasionally had to pound on desks and raise a stink to stop things happening that for engineering reasons simply will not work. And I’m sick of it, I’m sick of the stress, I’m sick of the lack of reward, I’m sick of the pettifogging paperwork, I’m sick of the stupid attempts to get databases to do things that people should be doing, and above all I am sick to the back teeth of all the jobbing caretakers that infest the management of large organisations now, who know the price of every function and the value of none of them.

To those that say I should move, why the hell should I? I like living here, I don’t want to drive miles every day in a world of increasing oil prices, and anyway, the cancer of management consultancy reeks across the land. Rather than having the balls to stand or fall by their own skill and experience the overpaid caretakers that are senior management in companies today pay McKinsey et al to do their work for them while drawing their bloated pay packets for parroting what they are told, rather than rolling their sleeves up and trying to understand the companies they manage.

These CEOs have hardly got time – their tenure is only three or five years. What a rotten way to run a company. Why do they get away with it? Because of scale – once it gets enough capital behind it a company can make things happen and pay for favours that make life easier for it, particularly in a globalised world. You don’t need to excel in skill or knowledge, you just need clout. Microsoft aren’t widely used because they’re the best, they are widely used because they are the biggest.

And that, Iain Duncan Smith, is why I don’t want to work till I am 70. I am not going to hang up my tools and my boots, but I want out of the rat race.


19 thoughts on “The Quiet Man reckons we want to all work till we’re 70? Dream on…”

  1. Well, I saw the IDS report and thought of you . . .

    I also watched Panorama. As usual (but understandably) little was revealed about the financial backgrounds of the people concerned. It is certainly going to be tougher for 50-somethings to adapt than youngsters, but if you are in the situation of not having built resilience into your life, trying to convince yourself of the superiority of work is probably unavoidable.


  2. > Well, I saw the IDS report and thought of you

    He gave me a great lead-in. Poor old IDS – he was never going to be a charismatic politician, though tragically I think he actually cares at times πŸ™‚

    That Panorama was scary. It’s not just the kids that seem to suffer from a sense of entitlement… And when you’ve been around the block a couple of times you have fewer excuses. I’ve seen two serious recessions before this one. Unlike GB I never laboured under the fond impression that we were safe from them happening again. Why had a financial manager not paid off his mortgage/have another investment backing it?

    The schools adviser thought the world owed her a living, what’s so wrong with supply teaching? I wasn’t too proud to work as a kitchen porter and clear tables as a young pup in Thatcher’s first recession. The chap with the housing stuff seemed to be made of the right stuff, but just because something is worthy still doesn’t necessarily mean he can get paid to do it in a recession.

    I think Panoram failed desperately – they should have promoted the early retirement option. It’s the luck of the draw as to whether a 50-something year old is going to take the bullet before they are 60/67. They need to start adjusting their flight path accordingly to minimise the risks. The world is changing, and not for the better for your middle class middle-aged UK employee. They can ignore it and go down with the ship, or start ripping up the deck and start making a life-raft…


  3. Panorama was truly awful, as was the ludicrous performance from Digby Jones (who sounds like a WWI flying ace).

    The basic message was dumb it down; retrain or start a small business. Hardly practical if you have no savings, have worked at the same job for 20 years and have started to ‘ossify’. Glad you haven’t ossified SLS, but a lot of people have!

    Also, while I think your angle on early retirement is laudable, it’s not really practical for some of the folk we saw in Panorama, as they had obviously failed to make hay when the sun was shining.

    If the choices are work ’til you drop or take responsibility for yourself now, I know which I prefer πŸ™‚


  4. I saw the Panorama program too.

    It is not just people in their 50’s who have it hard in the job market, 20 and 30 somethings have been hit hard too. There. are. no. jobs. There are masses of people going for even a p/t shop job these days. A word of caution for the early retirement brigade, do not rely on working p/t to supplement your retirement. Especially if you are a former “professional”, who wants to hire a lawyer or an engineer to serve coffee? No one.

    Everyone has been hit hard. I must admit that it does make my blood to listen to these 50 plus year olds, they are entitled whiners IMHO. These are the people who have had the luxury of 30 year careers often with long stints of employment with the same employer, they have been able to buy decent houses and experience the financial and emotional benefits of having secure employment and a secure home. They havent had to move and move and move again to find work, and often live in crap places just because there are jobs there with a resulting poor quality of life. Which leads me on to the next part of my rant.

    Now in relation to the issue of “Moving for work”. I have to say that Digby has a point. Get on your bike and look for work like the rest of us have had too. I’ve moved more times than I care to remember for jobs. You have to adapt.

    Why dont they go and work abroad? Where the heck are you going to go? Does Digby realise just how difficult it is to get into places like USA, CAN, OZ, NZ?

    Why are these people in a perilous situation with their finances when they have worked for all these years earning good money? I dont understand it.


  5. >Unlike GB I never laboured under the fond impression that we were safe from them happening again.

    Now let’s give GB his due. He only said there would be no return to Tory boom and bust. He didn’t mention a Labour one. πŸ™‚

    >They can ignore it and go down with the ship, or start ripping up the deck and start making a life-raft…

    Nice image, I’ll steal it some time.

    A possible consequence of the moaning middle-aged, middle-class is that that they will exert disproportionate political power (they like to vote and there are a lot of them) to the detriment of the young.


  6. I too saw the program.

    my sister ( primary school teacher) said the same thing about the school adviser not willing to get off her high horse…

    but what i have noticed is that alot of people don’t invest our money in shares we thing that it is risky, confusing and just downright complicated…

    how would we change that mindset surely if these people have invested in shares,isa’s index trackers ect they might have the chance to take early retirement?

    maybe im dreaming lol


  7. @Luke, I love the flying ace characterisation. I always think of him in a pinstripe suit and with a fat cat mask on with the pointy ears, that’s probably from having seen too many cartoons of him as CBI head honcho πŸ˜‰

    > Hardly practical if you have no savings, have worked at the same job for 20 years

    therein lies the rub, why no savings πŸ˜‰ It’s fair enough if you are young and paying off college debts and have chunks of unemployment. If you’ve been working for 20 years you should have accumulated savings, or at least equity in your home by paying down the mortgage!

    I probably earn less than the lady did with the schools advising and probably the financial manager. Okay, I haven’t had kids, but that is meant to reduce the likelihood of ossifying by adding new life into them πŸ˜‰ You are right that from their current position they can’t go for early retirement, which is why I advocate looking ahead and getting ready for what, let’s face it, is an increasingly likely event…

    @Dreamer, you got it to a T in
    > Why are these people in a perilous situation with their finances when they have worked for all these years earning good money?

    Maybe the spell of unemployment I had early in my career did actually serve me well, I was always aware of that spectre!

    @SG I think in fairness to the moaning middle classes, they often have young adult children, so I’d hope that this isn’t too one sided. Those I speak to at work certainly are concerned for their children there.

    @Matt – they actually have an easier path for them, most of the guys on the prog were working in jobs where the normal retirement age was 60. So they have <10 years to fund themselves. For hat you don't even need ISAs. They can do that with cash savings provided they are prepared to make some effort – that means no fancy foreign holidays, no impulse purchases and grinding down the regular outgoings.

    You’re right that they should have started 20 years ago with something like a tracker ISAs/PEPs. But if they hadn’t, starting now they should focus on cash savings while still working!


  8. Well, do you happen to remember my post on this topic? 😐

    This one is much better argued… without bringing age as I did. :-). Fair cop, guv.

    But ermine, it is not all frivolous expenses, guv. I did not have an opportunity to point this in our interactions on my post, but the current debacle also has to do with erosion of monetary value as well.

    Here’s a talk on this subject. Would love to hear how your thoughts might re-shape after you’ve heard her….
    Prof. Elizabeth Warren (Harvard) talks about collapse of a middle class


  9. Well let me tell you, i was on the programme and all four of us are finished at fifty all because of ageism in the pesific job field we had, and the government are doing nothing about it, hence i got a reply from Brussels saying : To take the example of the UK, it has been judged that unemployment for the over-50s is 69% higher in 2011 than before the recession, compared to an average 55% rise across all age groups. Equally, long-term unemployment has hit the over-50s hardest with 43% unemployed for more than a year, compared to 27% of 18-24-year-olds.

    From the specific portfolios of each of the members of Commissioner Andor’s Cabinet, it is clear that there is explicit work being undertaken on youth unemployment. However, but what work is the Commission undertaking on the equally important issue of unemployment in the over-50 age bracket?

    i was in the Hotel industry for 30 years and was made redundant 2 years ago and now cant get back into it, why coz of my age, also my JSA ran out after 182 days and was not able to claim any more because my wife earned Β£125 a week in her part time job, and also beause i had worked solid for 35 years the agent at the job centre said all my stamps are now paid up, so i dont need to sign on any more, so he signed me off and said goodbye, so really the government are retiring you early and they dont pay you for it either, so you are finished at fifty if you are not working


  10. @Ian, I think we’re in agreement that you’re unlikely to get a conventional job post 50. The disagreement probably lies in how to approach it.

    I have no love for the management structure at my place of work, and I am over 50. I see the writing on the wall, and am taking steps to forestall that, but saving money, seeking to boost my pension savings. I don’t expect to get work once I leave, I am not going to suck it up to any spotty jobsworth either.

    This writing was on the wall a long time ago, before 2007. I failed to see it ahead of time too, it was only in 2009 that I saw that for the sake of my own health I need to bust the revolting management aggressiveness out of my life. But even with that short time since then I have improved things so that being finished at fifty, though it will reduce my disposable income will not be a devastating hit.

    I’m sorry for your experience and that in came as a nasty surprise. Part of the theme running through this blog is that there are changes in the world and society that mean that some of the assumptions people make about life are breaking down. By understandng them they can attempt to forestall them issues, or at least not build overly hig expectations into their lives.


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