Why flexible working beats retirement

Julia Legge / 16 November 2018 ( 18 February 2020 )

The over 50s don't want to – and more often than not can’t afford to - retire. Find out how flexible working can keep you in the workplace longer.



With people living longer  –  in the UK the average is 82.9 years for women and 79.2 years for men – it's clear that a new approach to working in later life is needed.

So it should come as no surprise that the over 50s want the option of flexible hours for older workers, and more options for training and retraining on offer.

Take these results of a Saga survey. Respondents across all ages resoundingly felt that employers need to do more to be an age-friendly employer, with four out of five people over 50 saying that more flexible working hours should be introduced to accommodate older workers.

When asked what measures employers should implement to make workplaces more welcoming, respondents most commonly agreed offering part-time roles (73%), and more than three in five (63%) suggesting that employers need to get better at offering training and retraining schemes to help older workers with new skills and technology.

More than three fifths (65%) felt that an ageing and diverse society is a positive thing that should be celebrated. But they were naturally mindful of some of the challenges to society this also presents.

With more people over 65 in employment, there's a need to look at how to remove barriers to people working for as long as they choose. While finances will often play a part, more often than not it’s driven by a fundamental need to stay socially connected and enjoy the wellbeing benefits that working can bring. Work that suits the individual can keep people physically and mentally active, and give a sense of purpose in this new stage of life.

If you're keen to wind down your working hours but hate the thought of retiring early, flexible working could be the answer. Just read these seven handy tips before approaching the boss:

1. Clarify your thoughts

Have in mind what you ideally want to achieve and what you are happy to accept. For example, in an ideal scenario you could aim for a three-day week, while being prepared to accept four working days as a compromise.

2. Check your rights

In some instances the law provides employees with statutory rights to ask for a flexible working pattern – visit GOV.UK to find out more. The site also explains the formal procedure involved.

You cannot be made to retire! Read more about your rights.

3. What's in it for them?

When you’re persuading a boss to offer you flexible working, you need to look at it from their perspective. What will they gain by agreeing to you working flexible hours? For example, you may be able to suggest ways you can condense your role to be covered in three days, thereby saving 40% in salary. Or the change to your working arrangements could give a colleague the opportunity to learn your role under your guidance, and take over from you in, say, two years' time. Succession planning is key in most companies.

The rules around working part time in retirement

4. The answer is 'well, OK but...'

Think in advance of objections they could raise. Show the employer you have thought about the impact working flexibly might have on the business and how you and they could deal most effectively with this.

Is it time to get a new job? Read our job-hunting tips for the over-50s

5. An objection made can be a good thing

An employer saying 'it wouldn't work with you only here for three days a week' is not necessarily ruling out the idea of flexible working. Perhaps they would be happy to agree to a four-day week.

What you need to know about working beyond pension age

6. Timing is everything

Ask for the meeting to discuss flexible working when the boss is in a positive frame of mind. Not after they've just come out of a gruelling board meeting.

Working from home? Read our tips and keep productive

7. Does a colleague feel the same way?

There is every chance a colleague also wants to discuss flexible hours. They may be in a similar position to you, or perhaps they are a working mum who wants to spend more time at home. Discussing a job share as a solution could prove beneficial.

Case study: Alan Rae

Alan Rae part time employee Thales Glasgow

Alan is an external stakeholder engagement manager at Thales Glasgow.

How long have you been employed at Thales Glasgow?

I first started with the company on 1st November 1981, left in 2000 before returning in 2006. So, on and off, over 30 years. I “retired” in Sept 2017 – that lasted 11 weeks before the company asked me to come back on a part-time basis.

I think they suspected that deep down I wasn’t entirely ready to put on my slippers, or focus on which herbaceous borders I should plant in the garden.

What exactly do you do?

My role mainly involves coordinating and managing engagement with our Scottish political stakeholders (i.e MSPs and MPs), organising visits to the site by VIPs (customer, political and royal) and the positive promotion of Thales Glasgow within the wider Scottish community.

What do you find exciting about it, what do you get out of it, why do you enjoy it?

I find the opportunity to meet with an incredibly diverse range of people from across the UK and around the world to be both an educational experience and a privilege.

For many of our visitors I take the lead in showcasing the business here in Glasgow, explaining about our capabilities, the skills and dedication of the workforce and the contribution we’ve made both to the defence of the UK and Scotland’s unparalleled heritage in engineering.

It does put you under quite a lot of pressure to deliver and do a professional job, not just for the sake of your own pride and reputation, but more for the reputation and image of all my friends and colleagues, indeed the entire workforce, here at Thales in Glasgow. I owe it to them to do the best job I can.

"Part-time working has enabled me to do things I enjoy outside of the business but still affords me the chance to give back to the company."

What training skills have you acquired to enable you to stay in work longer?

I started in the company as a manufacturing technician, then became an engineer running a test department whilst simultaneously doing some design/development work. Then I moved into sales, then business development before becoming communications manager. It’s fair to say my career progression has taken a few twists and turns, which have all contributed to the broad range of skills needed for my current role.

The ability (and need) to get on with people and to see things from their perspective are key skills. I didn’t just wake up one morning with the ability to do that.

A lot of people over a lot of years took the time to guide me. I appreciate that as without their help I would have had half of the unique opportunities afforded to me over the years. Consequently, I feel it’s only right that I should do the same for those who might follow in my footsteps.

What would you say is the biggest satisfaction from working flexible hours?

I think it’s the ability to strike a better balance between my life outside Thales and the job I do here in the company. Working three days a week means each day consists more on the real priorities, which ups the satisfaction level when you complete them, whilst giving you more free time during the rest of the week.

When did you reduce your hours?

Over the last two months of my full-time job I reduced my number of days to four a week. That’s part of a Thales policy for people moving towards retirement, to ease the bump when they actually retire. It makes the transition easier and helps you acclimatise to the change.

When I came back on a part-time basis in December 2017, it was on a three days a week basis. Those days were pre-determined (usually a Tues/Wed/Thu) as it was only fair to the company, mainly for planning/business purposes, to know which days I’d be in.

Why did you reduce your hours?

It was a combination of adopting an option offered by Thales, along with wanting to have more free time, which put together enabled me to strike a better work-life balance.

Since changing your working pattern do you think your wellbeing has improved?

Absolutely. Not having to get up at 4:30am in the middle of a Scottish winter to get a flight to Heathrow or Gatwick is a great way to start the day! My role as “the man from Thales” and the responsibility that carries five days a week is much easier to carry if you’re only doing it three days a week.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.