Older workers (55+) in the UK are bracing themselves to continue working until they are 70 years old, according to new research by the CIPD. Based on a survey of more than 1,600 UK employees, the report Employee Outlook: Winter 2016-17: Focus on employee attitudes to pay and pensions finds that more than a third (37%) believe they will have to work past the traditional retirement age of 65, a figure which jumps to 49% among workers over 55 years old. Among those who predict they will work past 65, the average age they expect to actually retire is 70.

At the moment, money isn’t the prime motivator to work for longer. The most common explanation for wanting to work past 65 is that employees believe it will help keep them mentally fit (32%), followed by wanting to be able to earn and pay for nice things (such as buying treats for friends and family) (27%) and that they feel they would miss the challenge of having a job (19%).

Almost two in three (65%) of those aged 45 and over are taking steps to prolong their working lives. Interestingly, over three in four (77%) of those working in the public sector are taking steps, compared with almost two in three (63%) private sector staff. While around half of public sector staff are keeping their skills and knowledge up to date, taking regular exercise or are eating a healthy diet, just one in three (33%) private sector workers are keeping their skills and knowledge up to date, while just two in five (42%) are taking regular exercise.

These findings indicate the scale of the present challenges for HR in terms of how they start to design work, jobs and organisations for a maturing workforce, as well as finding ways to reward and recognise their achievements and train and develop them. This is highlighted by the finding that just one in four employees (25%) think that their employer is currently meeting the employment needs of the over-65s. Without action, lots of private sector organisations could rapidly face a situation where they are employing many older workers who don’t have the relevant skills and may not be mentally or physically fit enough to do the job.

This year’s survey on employee attitudes to pay and pensions finds there’s a shocking lack of awareness among workers regarding the new state pension that was introduced last year, in terms of what they’ll get and when they’ll get it. Around one in four (26%) employees aged 55 and over claim that they don’t know that next year the state pension age (SPA) will start to rise from 65 to 66, while one in two (48%) 35–54-year-olds are unaware that the SPA is going to increase from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

In terms of how much they’ll get, more than one worker in three (36%) is unaware that they need ten years’ worth of National Insurance contributions to get the minimum state pension, while around a third don’t (32%) realise that they must have 35 years’ worth of National Insurance contributions to get the full state pension. Among the over- 55s, one in four (24%) don’t know about the ten-year rule and one in seven (14%) don’t know about the 35-year rule.

In addition, just two employees in five (39%) are aware of the potential impact of contracting-in on the size of their state pension. Even among the over-55s, only one in two (54%) understand that they must have been contracted in for 35 years to get the full state pension. Just one in three (35%) of 35–54-year-olds know about the possible consequences of being contracted in or out.

These findings point to the importance of getting the message to employees about the age at which you can get the state pension and how long they must have contributed to get the full amount, as well as what employees can do if they want to get the maximum, such as paying voluntary contributions or getting credits if they were ill or unemployed.

While the Government should take the lead in providing prompt and accurate information to employees about what they’re entitled to, employers have a role in signposting where their workers can get the data they need to make informed choices when deciding to retire, such as how to get their state pension statement and their National Insurance statement.

If the message does not get out, we will be storing workplace problems for the future. While not the only factor, our survey report shows that the age at which staff can get a state pension is an important consideration (45% agree that the SPA will influence their decision to retire) in their decision making about when to stop work. If employees find out late in the day that they will have to wait longer to get the state pension than they had thought or that they will get less money than anticipated, many will be forced to stay on at work for longer. This will create a number of people management challenges, as well as opportunities, for organisations to address.

About the author

Charles Cotton, Senior Performance and Reward Adviser

Charles has recently led research into the business case for pensions, how front line managers make and communicate reward decisions, and managing reward risks, as well as the creation of a good practice guide on the annual pay review process. He is also responsible for the CIPD’s public policy work in the area of reward and is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD.

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