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Older workers individual case study: the HR Director

Jean Young, 62. HR Director of a professional services firm

‘I can’t afford to retire yet. I have a part-company pension from my previous job and a smaller -personal pension and I will need to work until I’m 65. Unlike the larger firms, we don’t lose people when they reach 55 – there are a number of partners and consultants here who are working on into their 60s and 70s.
I’ve got plenty of plans for when I retire, but for now I enjoy what I do. I like the intellectual challenge of doing battle daily with partners! And if I don’t know the answer to a question thrown at me, I’ll go and find out. I’ve got the confidence and experience that comes with age to know that there will be an answer.
I run HR on my own here, including graduate recruitment – I do everything from the high-level stuff to the filing. I enjoy learning new things and seeing new staff come through. I also get a real satisfaction from completing a task well and while it would be great to get some recognition from others for doing that, I don’t need it or expect it.
I officially work a 28-hour week or four days a week, but until recently it has been full-time and more. More recently my younger brother became ill with dementia and, along with my sister, we have become his legal carers. He had to move from London to The Midlands to get the level of care needed and while he doesn’t live with us, it feels like we are full-time carers. Everyone in the firm knows that when I get a call about him, I have to take it. I also don’t work weekends anymore because I spend them with my brother and sister in The Midlands.
I’m careful with technology. While I can see it is an enabler, I think we all over-use it – especially email. And don’t get me started on social media! I’m also aware that using email, particularly with sensitive HR issues, is not good. I often urge managers not to use it but to speak to me instead.
In the next two and a half years, I will be planning and working on my succession actively – I’m hoping to recruit someone soon. There is the size of my workload to be considered, something that has increased recently with the introduction of new partners; there is also the compliance which I keep on top of for now – however, just some help with the filing would be nice!
Being at work in your later years gives you a reason to keep active, be sociable daily and to look after your health. Many companies offer healthcare benefits which can be useful when you get older and things start going wrong. It also means you can take holidays, planning when you need to wind down a bit and you can afford them. I also think working later has a big impact on your mental health. Generally I think people are more alert in the workplace – it’s less easy to scammed, for example, partly because you’re more aware of this on behalf of your employer. There’s a whole thing about relaxing when you’re retired which makes us a little less savvy.
My advice to others is that you’ve got to enjoy your job if you stay on for longer. Stay positive. You can’t spend years being unhappy in your job. It’s standing back from a task and feeling pleased about what you’ve achieved. I’m also lucky in that I have the seniority and trust from the firm to be able to make the choices I do around combining my job with my life. That’s what makes it work for me.’