I suppose the aspect of ageing that makes a big impact on many of our lives as we get older, is the fear of not being able to continue working and making money any more. For many it’s a depressing thought, the realisation that you’ve had your chance in life, you have got as far as your talents and opportunities would allow, and from now onwards its downhill all the way. The official end of our working life has an enormous impact on daily living, attitude of mind and self worth. Retirement marking this end, whether voluntary or involuntary, can cause some people despair, frustration, and panic at the thought of a future without structure and reward for efforts. Others regard their release from the constraints of the job as an exciting challenge, and can’t wait to put their new-found freedom to work for them. At the time of writing the age of retirement stands at 60 years for women, and 65 years for men, but this is in the process of changing and will become 65 years of age for women too – bringing them into line with men.
The time in our lives when we pick up our Bus Pass and claim Pensioners discount is a landmark for which most of us have subconsciously programmed ourselves over many years. Wryly we had referred to it in the past, as the far distant time in the future, when we would be “old”. But there are those people, including myself who cannot easily come to terms with the traditional concept of age since we don’t feel old enough to be regarded by the rest of the world as “old” at the age of 60. Many older people view retirement with a sense of relief, relishing the fact that at last they have time for themselves. With regular employment finally behind them, the lucky ones will have the cushion of an occupational pension, the just rewards of 40 or so years of hard work, to look forward to. This money will enable them, in theory at least, to have a comfortable retirement, free from financial worries. Some, who previously all those years ago took out an insurance policy, can relax into retirement looking forward to their policy paying out, whilst others will have a private pension scheme that they have contributed to over many years, to boost their finances.
These fortunate older adults sensibly planned their retirement when they were younger and in a position to put away a percentage of their earnings in preparation for their old age. If life continues according to plan they will always have disposable income, enabling them to have a contented retirement in which to indulge their fancies. These sections of the retired and ageing population are well provided for, and they are optimistic about their future. For some if they qualify, there is the State pension to look forward to which pays out varying amounts according to the individual’s circumstances. A great many older people in the community try (with great difficulty) to exist on just that, plus a little or no savings. This low income can cause hardship and distress, and all too often it is women who find themselves the pension victims.
However, as we are all too aware, the goal posts of the employment game were moved during our lifetime, and some people who had thought they would be secure in their jobs until they were 65, now find themselves taking early, unplanned retirement. But early retirement is not an option for many people and can throw up many problems for those who have mortgages and financial commitments to uphold, when they lose their jobs they are shocked. They simply hadn’t expected to find themselves unemployed at this stage in life. They feel cheated and disappointed, and all too easily they can lose their self-esteem. Many are victims of downsizing are 50+ age group and they are the first to go. Overnight their world turns upside down. No longer is there a daily structure to their lives, just an everyday void that takes a lot of adjusting to. As a consequence there may be anger, panic and a sense of failure.
Letters of rejection follow dozens of job applications or worse still no response at all heightens their feeling of failure. Many of the rejections are basically ageist and this dents their ego still further. It can be demoralising poring over the situations vacant columns in newspapers or having to stand in line at the job centre. It’s hard enough trying to get another job competing against one’s peers, yet alone finding oneself constantly pushed aside for someone younger who doesn’t have the qualifications or experience for the job, but who does have youth.
A recent report from the Institute for Employment Studies points out that a third of Britons will be aged 55 or over by 2011. This group is being thrown onto the employment scrapheap and faces an uphill struggle to gain further work. Jenny Kodz one of the co-authors of the report, The Fifties Revival, says “quite aside from their experience, older workers are more committed and reliable, have better customer-facing skills, understand business better and take less short term sickness absence”. So why should these loyal, trustworthy and often skilled workers be penalised for being 45 years or over – it doesn’t make economic sense. Ageism appears to be rife in offices and factories in the UK but so far the Government has refused to legislate against ageist bosses.
It’s hard to try to rebuild self-esteem in these circumstances and people understandably feel frustrated and out of control of the situation. The idea of spending the future more or less housebound doesn’t appeal to many. The future looks bleak, and not surprisingly this can result in an intense feeling of isolation. At home the family try to be supportive, but partners who are not used to others around them on a regular day to day basis can find it difficult, especially when another constantly occupies their previously singular space. Domestic difficulties are heightened by the intensity of the new situation and this claustrophobic effect can lead to issues, which have probably been bubbling away on the back boiler for many years, coming to boiling point. Sometimes this leads to the need for dramatic domestic changes, some good, some bad, in order to accommodate both partners new requirements. Having depended on two wages for many years, some households find it very difficult, and often impossible, to maintain commitments and this puts extra strains on the relationship. Sadly, it can precipitate the end of the relationship, with partners deciding to make a final break and choosing to go it alone into the future.
But the future isn’t always bleak when there is early retirement, and many people on finding themselves unemployed manage to turn the situation to their advantage, and rise to the challenge. For some it means an end to uncertainty and worry at work, that may have been there for months or even years. With the decision made, they feel a sense of relief, and they purposely cut off from their past employment, and optimistically set about trying to carve out a new niche for themselves. Sometimes their new work is completely different from their old work, but if it turns out to be successful it gives an enormous sense of achievement, excitement and a new lease of life.
In any circumstances losing a job is traumatic but sadly in this ever changing and unsettled world too many people can find themselves made redundant overnight. Redundancy is devastating and can seriously affect one’s health and self-esteem. Those made redundant feel numb, disappointed and cheated. Initially the shock can create a sense of isolation and even more so if losing the job was totally unexpected. Not surprisingly after the initial shock and anger, panic sets in. There are desperate thoughts of how one is going to be able to cope.
All too often there will be dependants, partners, children or ageing parents to support and mortgages to pay. Going from two wages to one is very hard for a family and one of the biggest worries will be how to survive. The stresses and strains on any family can be awesome although partners and families who have been together for a long time seem to have a better chance of understanding and working through their problems. Most families show their support, but the redundant breadwinner must make a conscious effort of their own to look after themselves, to avoid becoming a burden to others.
In these circumstances I see nothing wrong with applying a little TLC (tender loving care) to oneself. Rather than sitting around fretting and waiting for the phone to ring or the post too arrive, it would be benefit to work one’s frustrations out in the gym. Chemicals called endorphins are released when we exercise and go some way towards creating the “feel good factor” An alternate would be to relax the mind and refresh the body with a massage or aromotherapy. After all the only person who can rebuild one’s ego is oneself.
But that as we all know can be easier said than done. It’s very hard to sit around the house for hours especially if one has lived life in the fast lane. The very thought of signing on for unemployment benefit horrifies many people who have worked conscientiously for many years or possibly a lifetime. But it should not – we can’t let pride get in the way of necessity. Getting another job may be difficult, if not impossible. There is still a huge bias against older people when it comes to employment. It seems grossly unfair that the Government spends billions of pounds helping young people find employment and only a fraction to assist older people who really do need help to find another job. Most of these people are desperate to work, they have family and commitments to uphold and yet employers shun them because of their age. Many of the bosses are young men who need to be discouraged from shunning older job seekers and made to realise they are turning away experience and knowledge, both of which are valuable assets. Maybe it’s time for the Government to bring in legislation to outlaw age discrimination by employers.
For some people redundancy is the catalyst which brings them to a turning point in their life and which signals major changes. Redundancy forces them to stop and take stock of their lives and having been confronted by an unplanned early retirement they set about making a new life. Whilst there are many women who will be daunted by the possibility of change there are other determined women who are thrilled by the idea. Some see it as a chance to break with tradition and all the constraints of the previous years. They relish the freedom and the opportunity to became their own boss. Thankful of the excuse they bravely make plans and takes up the challenge to do something completely new. It takes courage and determination to find the finance and resources to start again, or to develop a new idea, to make a hobby into a business. But it must be hugely satisfying when the venture is successful.
Some women who are offered early retirement seize the chance of prematurely ending their working days with both hands. They are relieved to be out of the rat race and see early retirement as a huge bonus. They use their time to travel afar, explore extensively and make new friends. Other women find this a truly satisfying time of life and are content to stay nearer to home family and friends. They stuff their travel concession cards safely into their pockets and hop on the local bus or train. With time on their hands they have the opportunity to rediscover their own localities and have time at last to consolidate old friendships. It’s a quality time of life, time for interests and hobbies and a time to nurture the old and develop the new. But a very real problem concerning leisure can be how to keep other people from using it. How many of us find that just when we get to the stage of deciding to “live for ourselves”- somebody close needs us immediately.