As the co-founder of The Age of No Retirement, he’s on a mission – to create a world where age does not define us. And with ageism dubbed “the last acceptable prejudice”, its work that is vital to a more inclusive society. In the work environment, traditional ideas of retirement lead to rich and productive working lives cauterised by an arbitrary age line for both women and men. Dr Collie talks about how we can – and should - challenge this, looking at how the power of meaningful work throughout the whole life course can benefit ourselves, business and society – as well as play a key role in closing the Gender Pay Gap.
Anna: Hello and welcome to the everywoman Podcast. I'm Anna, editor of everywoman, and every month we'll be bringing you the stories, insights, and opinions of inspiring people in business on a wide range of topics. Asking the questions you want the answers to and, doubtless, prompting some more in the process.
Anna: Today, we're looking at the subject of ageism and age inclusivity, and the role of work within that. In the studio we welcome Jonathan Collie, co-founder of The Age of No Retirement, an organisation with a mission to create age positive social change.
Anna: Welcome Jonathan.
Jonathan Collie: Thank you. Hi.
Anna: Your mission is to create a world where our age no longer defines us or the opportunities that are open to us. You say that this should be true whether we're 20 or 80. I'd like to start with the first question of, is ageism the last acceptable prejudice and why?
Jonathan Collie: I think that we'll always find conflicts and tension, so we might succeed in tackling ageism, but then we'll no doubt find something else that we need to tackle after that. As far as diversity is concerned, diversity in the workplace is concerned we find that many of the diversity issues, the inclusivity issues have been addressed quite successfully to some extent in the workplace, but age certainly hasn't. As far as diversity in the workplace is concerned age, I think, is the next big one that we need to crack.
Anna: The next big tackling?
Jonathan Collie: Yes.
Anna: The Age of No Retirement, so for some people this sounds like hell, for others pure joy. Let's look at the baseline, how is the concept of work and indeed retirement changing and why should we possibly start looking at these in a different way?
Jonathan Collie: First of all, The Age of No Retirement is not saying that ... or we're not advocating that people work until they drop. What we're saying is that we are indeed living in an age where retirement in its traditional stereotypical form no longer exists. In the old days, when retirement was first popularised, people had enough money in retirement to live a life of leisure, more leisurely existence. That was largely because they didn't last very long in retirement. I think, the average age in retirement was three years. I think, the average life expectancy was actually lower than the retirement age. Now, when people retire they can expect 10, 20, 30, 40 years even in retirement. It's a question really in two parts. The one is, is retirement or modern non-retirement all about money? The answer to that is, obviously, not. Also, because you got so much time can you really afford to spend that time only going on cruises, and doing gardening, and watching TV, and looking after the grandkids? That model just doesn't exist anymore.
Anna: Is that enough for people?
Jonathan Collie: That's what we're finding more and more, that that isn't enough for people and that people need that continued purpose, that sense of fulfilment, that sense of reward. People want to continue to learn to do things. They want to keep building their social networks, they want to continue to be challenged. We find more and more that in the age of no retirement, work is indeed becoming a much more important element of people's lives beyond the 50, 60, 70-year-old timeframe.
Anna: Presumably, the idea of work is also becoming more fluid. We'll talk about this later, but you do a lot of work with entrepreneurs in later life. Are we talking specifically when we say no retirement of entrepreneurial activity or are we talking within working structures as well?
Jonathan Collie: Yes. Very interestingly, we're starting to work with large employers, employers that have more than 1000 employees, and in many instances have more than 10 or even 100,000 employees, to start thinking about blurring that black line of retirement and what it actually means to each individual as well as organisation itself. What does the win-win look like, and it's certainly not just extending a 9 to 5 career in your current job rule.
Jonathan Collie: As people get older their priorities change, they want different things, and we're finding, and in fact what we will increasingly see, is a trend towards drawing in elements of retirement into the workplace and extending elements of the workplace into that retirement space. You're going to start seeing not just flexibility in location and time, how much work and where you do it, it's going to be a complete rethinking of job roles. Almost a deconstruction of job roles. You're looking at as a portfolio of tasks, and projects and objectives, and how people and their skill sets, and how much they want to work, and what value they can really add, how that more fluid approach can start to redefine the boundary between career and retirement.
Anna: In essence then, age or rather the challenges of an ageing population could end up defining work for a lot more people just than that particular cohort.
Jonathan Collie: Absolutely right. In fact, when we are asked to help companies to rethink about retirement our starting point is always why does it only have to be your older workers? Why can't we rethink work? Rethink how your company performs, how people want to live their lives, start to measure productivity not in presence, and also retraining line managers so they're much more flexible in their approach and accommodating approach, and looking at the deliverables rather than whether they see people every day.
Anna: Let's talk about this idea of age defining us. Your mission, as I said, is to create a world where age doesn't define us at whatever age we are. You're very clear to say it's 20 to 80, or 90, or 100. Who says? There might be a centenarian that wants to set up a business. Is it possible and actually why is it desirable? Don't we have certain things that define us at age that are quite positive?
Jonathan Collie: We don't advocate abolishing age as a concept. Chronology, time they're irrefutable. There's only so much that you can say that we want to get rid of. What we want to do is to make sure that people don't see their age as a reason for them not being able to do something or that they have to behave in accordance with their age. When we start to work with organisations mostly in the third sector with lots of charities, when they start to develop services and products for people, they say, "Well, this is for 50+ or this is for 65+." Our challenge is you can't design for age because a 65-year-old can as easily be running a marathon as he can be in a care home with dementia. Designing for that age is absolutely meaningless. What you need to design is for needs, one's desires. If you get that right then whatever you're designing it can address people of any age. The commonality is that need.
Anna: There is, certainly I know in later life, that homogeneity, that sense that you get to a certain age and that's what you want to do.
Jonathan Collie: We all have to dress the same, you live in the same place, you do the same thing. It's what's expected.
Jonathan Collie: When we launched Trading Times, which was the precursor to The Age of No Retirement it was back in 2014, it was all around people over the age of 50 and engaging them in flexible or for flexible part-time paid work. Looking at people who want to build that portfolio career, that portfolio approach, and matching people who've got 10, 20, 30, 40 years of work experience who could be retiring at the very top of their game and matching them with the flexible resource needs of local small businesses who can't afford to hire a full-time equivalent. They just want those rich skills as and when they need them.
Jonathan Collie: We found that many of the people who were older entering this retirement space, who had these incredible skills, they felt ... and they were assuming the stereotype, they were absorbing it themselves. They felt that they couldn't or shouldn't work because they are taking jobs from younger people, that it's their time to give back, and not to earn money. That they need to be volunteering in charities, and doing things like that. It was a source of frustration. In The Age of No Retirement where we're living so much longer and the economy needs to grow with everybody's contributions, with all the resources, and certainly the experience it's built up over decades of careers. We just can't afford to have all these people not engaged in the economy anymore.
Anna: On a cruise.
Jonathan Collie: Just absent, just removing themselves from society in general. People need to learn from their experience, you need to retain. It's like humanity is a library, you got to nurture and you got to retain this heritage.
Anna: The over 50s is a traditionally marginalised group because of this retirement space. It's about enrichment then, I guess, and it's putting it all back in.
Jonathan Collie: A big challenge we have is the absence of role model models and good stories. In a youth success society and you open up the media, and read the news every day, and all the popular type stories they're all around youngsters, young entrepreneurs. If they are about older people they tend to be more of a sensationalist nature. If an older person is running a startup as an entrepreneur, the astounding aspect is not what he or she is doing, it's the fact that they're older and an entrepreneur. We just need to normalise these things a bit more. We need more stories of normal people who are older, who are doing things with their longer years, with their longer lives that's just occupying their time and inspiring them. Then, that can be referenced by other people who start to feel that it's normal for them to start going back to university, or starting a new career, or starting a business, or becoming self-employed, or the hobby that they're passionate about, they can start to build that into a new business. There's a million things that they could be considering doing.
Anna: Normalising is the key, isn't it?
Jonathan Collie: It is the key, yeah.
Anna: Give me a little bit of a background about how The Age of No Retirement is working towards that.
Jonathan Collie: We're working in three areas. We're working with organisations in the workforce, how it is that we can take the us and them out of the workplace. The younger versus older, the over 50, or around the retirement, or the concept that older people are blocking space and they need to move on and retire. It's re-thinking that. That's going to take some time. I know through experience, that in the HR environment in businesses, once enough change starts to happen then the change starts to accelerate really greatly. The other two areas are the community, just broadly speaking community. We want to start to cultivate, nurture more intergenerational cohesion within communities. We need to arrest and reverse the trend of quarantining older people in old age facilities and keeping people, generations apart, we need to start exploring that. We've just finished, or are about to finish, a very exciting project in the London borough of Islington where we're exploring what it is that needs to be developed and created within a community in order to really cultivate and drive intergenerational cohesion. The third area is in product line. That includes developing brands and communication, so reclaiming normal language for normal people rather than coming up all the time with these new euphemisms, jargons, and the silver surfers, and the golden age, and all these things that-
Anna: They're diminishing.
Jonathan Collie: They do more harm than good all the time. It's just normal language for normal people is what we need to reclaim. It's those three areas that we're focusing on and it's all around doing things because we're not a think tank. We do a lot of thinking, but the very earliest opportunity we want to start prototyping change and start to demonstrate how it is that action can actually translate it into broader changes, and thinking, and behaviour.
Anna: This what you're exploring in your into intergenerational research unit, then?
Jonathan Collie: We're not a research organisation, so all the research we do is in support of project work that we do. A big piece of research that we did when we first received some funding from a big lottery fund to actually set The Age of No Retirement up as an organisation at the beginning of 2016 was a big research project, we called it In Common. We couldn't continue with the Age of No Retirement without the proof that there's more that binds people and connects people of all ages than separates them under these generational stereotypes.
Jonathan Collie: We demonstrated quite clearly that whether your 25 or 65 you pretty much thinking along similar lines. Your 65-year-old self is not that different to your 25-year-old self and yet marketing departments and media they all love talking about millennials and boomers and how completely different they are and they think so differently. We set out to prove that on your 50th birthday going from 49 to 50 you don't all of a sudden become a different being overnight. Building on the fact that we have more in common is really, I think, the root answer to everything that we're really grappling with.
Anna: Let's talk further about the differences and commonality with regard to gender. Obviously, we're talking about collapsing this idea of age and making it inclusive, but are there differences in the way that that plays out with men and women? I know you've done a bit of research recently on this.
Jonathan Collie: We don't focus specifically or particularly on gender issues, but we do come across trends quite a lot. We need to work really hard on ensuring that whatever it is that we do is accessible, and open, and inclusive to everybody.
Jonathan Collie: There's a few things that, I think, we can highlight here. When we launched Training Times in 2014, I think, within six months in London there were 2000 candidates that registered with the service, 60% of whom were women. If you think about that, the appetite for working in later life, and obviously we haven't done a broader study on this, but it was very interesting that 60% of the people who volunteered their time, their effort, their experience were women.
Jonathan Collie: Most interesting was if you think about an older woman, what would she be offering? It's not what you would think if you were thinking stereotypically. It's not admin/clerical roles. These are people who've got 20, 40 years experience working in marketing, or finance, or consulting. It was amazing that there was a very broad even distribution across all the skills and all the sectors. We were extremely excited about what we could offer by way of a resource pool to employers on a part-time flexible basis. That was very interesting.
Jonathan Collie: More recently, we did a project in ... we're doing this project in Islington, which has caused us very interestingly to speak to so many people in the borough of all shapes and sizes, ages, races, cultures, to try and understand what makes them tick, what their fears are, what their hopes and dreams are. We interviewed quite a few people on high streets, in counsellor states, and we realised that there's been a trend in recent times away from the patriarch of the community who would help kids tinkering with their bikes or do the bloke stuff in the community. We noticed quite a significant absence of men and now the patriarch has been replaced by the matriarch. We have the women who own the streets, who are telling the kids to behave, and who are doing favours, and chores, and help for their neighbours, and popping in for a cup of coffee, et cetera.
Jonathan Collie: Again, this isn't a formal study of ours, but it's something through all the conversations that we had we realised that whatever it is that you need to do in order to make significant change along intergenerational lines within a community has to be done through the women.
Jonathan Collie: That's one thing of late. I suppose, it's born out a little bit by, look at the Cub Scouts movement. I think the majority of people who run the evening Cub Scouts are the mothers not the fathers anymore. Certainly, my son who's been in Cubs, I don't think that we've had a father involved there. There must be 10 mothers who run the three that he's been involved in.
Anna: That's interesting. I love that idea that women can play this amazing role in collapsing these intergenerational boundaries.
Anna: I just wanted to return to entrepreneurialism actually because I know that you've done a project, or I think you're still doing it, with the over 50s entrepreneurs and matching them up with younger entrepreneurs. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Tell me, are there women involved in that? How do women's attitudes in later life relate to entrepreneurialism?
Jonathan Collie: That's quite interesting. In fact, it is the project in Islington that we've been working on. It started off as an intergenerational startup hub, that was the hypothesis we were looking to test. The one thing, our approach is all around design led thinking. We never go in with an answer that we're looking to build. We go in with a hypothesis or a direction of travel and then through all these interviews and the conversations it sorts itself out. It was midway through the project that the intergenerational startup hub became less of an exciting and an exciting idea and it was replaced-
Anna: Sorry, explain to me, explain to the listeners what exactly that involved initially in its inception.
Jonathan Collie: Initially, we were thinking that people around the age of graduating from university, who've got lots of learned knowledge but very little applied to knowledge, lots of excitement of what the future might hold, also a little bit of trepidation as to whether they're going to get a job and whether they're going to be able to afford to buy a house and move out of home. There's lots of text savviness and lots of social connectivity, social networks which may not be that interpersonal. It might be more online or through social media channels. That's on the one side.
Jonathan Collie: On the other side, we're looking at the 55 to 63-year-old person who is emerging from a full-time career now thinking, "Well, I've got 20, 30 years left what am I going to do for the rest of my life?" Again, with some hope and excitement of the newfound freedom of choice, but also trepidation as to what it is they're going to be able to do. Not so much as learned education and knowledge, but an incredible amount of acquired experiential knowledge. We're thinking that both of these groups of people are sitting at a major life transition point, so wouldn't it be amazing if we could get them together and younger people can learn how to debate, and talk, and think, public speaker may be. Learn by experience and leveraging the experience of older people. Older people can learn about technology, and they can revitalise themselves, I suppose, after having spent many years in a career.
Jonathan Collie: That was thinking, if we can put them together and, I suppose, the real thing that would that apart is more that a breadth of age of those co-founder groups would mean that they would have a better understanding of market needs in general and therefore they would have a much better potential for developing the right product. Of course, as the product is developed and the business is launched they would have the breadth of skills in order to run a more resilient durable business. There were all these perfect synergy type equations going on.
Jonathan Collie: Then, we started to speak to the people and the wheels didn't come off. The interesting thing was that the wheels still stayed on this, but it was so many other things that we could do. It became this non-simplistic, non-linear intergenerational start up hub and it became, what we're now calling, The Common Room where it's for people of all ages. It's not just for those 2 cohorts. It's to look at how it is that we can bring people together and, in so doing, raise everybody's game. They can help each other, nurture each other, raise everybody's game, create a hotbed of intergenerational productivity and exploration and, in so doing, attract other parties into this mix.
Jonathan Collie: You think of companies that have lost touch with their customers and they go to third-party market insights. They can just pop up and they can run focus groups, and workshops within this hub. Companies who're looking to understand customer needs, user insights they can engage with us. The local authority might say, "Well, we've got a problem with childhood obesity in our borough." Well, let's take it to the residence, let's see if they can solve this if they can develop new social enterprises, new social ideas, new problems. NHS in the local area can come with their problems and roll up their sleeves with the residents.
Jonathan Collie: Now, this isn't going to happen spontaneously. We need to have a host creative team and a host development team in there, but more of a facilitation role, not a class based educational curriculum role.
Anna: Also, equally important, I guess, is that all of this is an equal relationship. It's collapsed the traditional idea of hierarchy where the older person teaches the younger person or actually the inverse hierarchy now where the younger millennials know everything and the older people know nothing. I find that really fascinating. I also find that the idea that this intergenerational idea with work can then lead on to intergenerational solutions in society and that's part of the whole thing.
Anna: I'm just going to ask you one final question before we go. Tell me, what is the next stage? Where are you going now and what do you want to see happen through Age of No Retirement in, say, the next year, 5 years, 10 years?
Jonathan Collie: Very interestingly, this project, the intergenerational startup hub that's now become The Common Room, that has enormous potential to become a network of community-based... I don't know what the critical mess of community, whether it's a borough, or it's a town, but aggregating across this network there is a movement for social change and a powerful intergenerational story. The Age of No Retirement, if we can get that moving, if we can get that out the gates ... Now, this project was funded by Innovate UK, which is a government sub-department of the Department of Base Business Enterprise and Industrial Strategy, I think. If we can now get the pilot going and start to test it in different locations and gain traction that's really where we want to get because that would drive innovation, community redesign, intergenerational cohesion, a new narrative, new language, new stories, new role models.
Jonathan Collie: One of the conversations I had, one of the interviews I had was with a mother, a young mother who was looking to get back to work. Now, she was very successful, she'd come from the city, budding career in finance. Then, she had her first baby and her thinking changed. She now no longer wanted to go back to the cities. She wanted to explore, I don't know, something a little bit more meaning, with a little bit more of a social impact, as well as generate some income for herself, but there was nowhere for her to go. She was almost knocking on charity by charity within the local community. The Common Room, we want those kinds of people, those kinds of people with a little bit of an agitation, a little bit of an itch to scratch, a little bit of dissatisfaction with the status quo, an ambition to do better, to be better. That's the answer that we want to start to provide.
Anna: What also is interesting to me as well about that and about that broader social change and working change is if you have for men and women working longer and in different styles then, obviously, this can contribute to helping to close the gender pay gap, which has been in the news recently. It will help to level the playing field. It is the answer, or one of the answers, to a more inclusive society.
Jonathan Collie: The gender pay issue is exacerbated towards the retirement type line where you find that women tend to be the principal carer, so if there's an ailing parent, older parent, it's the daughter, if there is a son and daughter, it's the daughter that takes that principal role. It's the sandwich caring burden falls more on the mother and the daughter and so I find that the livelihoods, the careers of women are under greater threat than men, and with that comes an erosion in pay, and in promotions, and salaries, and things like that. I'd like very much for us to be able to start to drive collaborative innovation on a peer basis, that everybody's got the same stake and start to create or to demonstrate what is possible on that basis.
Anna: Obviously, there is a lot that is possible.
Jonathan Collie: There is a lot that is possible and there's a lot to be done.
Anna: Jonathan Collie, thank you very much-
Jonathan Collie: Thanks very much Anna.
Anna: Thank you all for joining us as well on this everywoman podcast and we look forward to continuing the conversation with you next time.
Anna: Don't forget, in the meantime, there's a wealth of information, interest, and further talking points on the everywomanNetwork and app if you want to access us on the move. Until we meet again, have a great day and keep on living your best life.