On average, people in the UK are living longer. It’s now estimated that a quarter of all children born today will live to almost 100.1

As we’re living longer, our relationship with work is changing, particularly for employees over 50. The challenges they face, both positive and negative, could drive many to adapt their future plans to accommodate their changing circumstances. This could mean working longer, or a return to work for those who have previously stopped.

As their employer, you know the value people in the second half of life can bring to your business. And helping them to thrive in the workplace is important to achieving a people-first, wellbeing-led culture. It starts with understanding what your over-50 colleagues need, aspire to and are concerned by.

We’ve recently launched a new report, ‘The Second 50: Navigating a multi-stage life’ – designed to explore what a longer life could mean for your employees. This article will introduce you to the concept of the Second 50 and what a multi-stage life is. We’ll share key insights into how your over-50 employees see their work, and considerations for how you can better support them. Unless otherwise stated, all data presented is from this report.

What is the Second 50 and how is it affecting your employees’ relationship with work?

Driven by developments in healthcare, working conditions and social culture, average life expectancy in the UK continues to edge closer to the 100-year milestone.

For those who are coming up to or are already beyond 50 – the second half of modern life or the ‘Second 50’ as we like to call it – presents a particularly different landscape. This is especially evident in their relationship with employment. Changing family dynamics, work patterns and financial needs may lead to a re-think in career and retirement plans. Here are a few examples of the changes those approaching or in their Second 50 might face:

  • Becoming parents later and seeing their own parents live longer. 1.3 million people in the UK (mostly aged between 35 and 54) now bear caring responsibilities to both children and parents.2
  • Since the pandemic, many people who had previously retired are considering a return to work, with money an important motivator. Of those 50-65-year-olds thinking of returning, 61% are less likely to be able to afford an unexpected or necessary expense, or own their home outright (57%).3
  • More people are choosing to work longer too, with the number of workers aged 65+ more than doubling between 1998 and 2018.4
  • Only 27% of people now envision a clean break from full-time employment into full-time retirement. For some, this is for positive reasons like enjoyment and keeping their brain active. But for others, this is out of concern for a lack of savings.

With so many responsibilities to juggle over an increasing number of years, it’s no surprise that over-50s are facing a changing relationship with their work. An important consideration as their employer is to recognise these developments and implement structures that allow your employees in their Second 50 to perform to the best of their abilities.

professional man is smiling and relaxed while walking through the office

What are employee expectations and concerns for work and retirement in later life?

From collaborative internal cultures to people-first benefits packages, the ability to support your employees stems from an understanding of their needs, goals and worries. This includes considerations for both the workplace and their life once they’ve retired from it.

When it comes to employees in and approaching their Second 50, we surveyed 900 workers to understand what drives their expectations and concerns for work and retirement in later life. Here are some of the key findings.

Employee expectations and aspirations for later life

Knowing how your employees plan to work and retire could help you to better support them in the workplace, as well as set them up for their later years.

  • As noted, only 27% intend to transition straight from full-time work to full-time retirement. 37% envision changing their work patterns over a gradual transition out of the workplace.
  • Their top aspiration for later life is to spend more time with friends and family (53%). We know that more over-50s are assuming dual care responsibilities for children and parents, which could impact them while still at work.
  • Of work-related aspirations, 18% hope to take up volunteering and 12% would like to try working in another field. This could be an opportunity to offer more activities like this within your own workplace.

Employee concerns for work and retirement in later life

Although individuals in their fifties and beyond have accumulated decades of experience and skills, many appear to struggle with their workplace confidence.

  • 54% of 50 to 59-year-olds who had previously stopped working, believe that their skills are no longer relevant to a modern workplace. This same feeling extends to 15% of those who have stayed in work, too.
  • With many planning to return to work or stay employed for longer, such low confidence in their own abilities presents a significant barrier for those in their Second 50. This is because it could damage their prospects of finding and keeping roles throughout their later years. For employers, it might pose new challenges when looking to help older employees develop.
  • Those over-50 also share a number of concerns for their greater longevity as a whole, such as running out of money in retirement (45%) and declining physical health (39%). These concerns may impact their personal and work responsibilities – both now and in the future.
professional male and female having a relaxed office meeting while drinking coffee and taking notes

What does the Second 50 mean for you as an employer?

With more over-50s staying or joining the workforce, our Second 50 research presents an opportunity for you to adapt your workplace culture. By addressing the specific worries and needs that define employees in their Second 50 you could foster an environment that will promote confidence and development for years to come.

With a focus on wellbeing-led employee support, you might see improvements in your recruitment and retainment of talented staff, as well as productivity and the achievement of business goals.

Here are a few considerations for how you might best support them.

Managing confidence and skills

Second 50 workers worry that their skills are no longer relevant to a modern workplace. To help them be more confident and competitive in the work environment, you may wish to offer more training and upskilling opportunities. This might be both for their current role and other areas of your business that they could be interested in.

Flexibility in work patterns

Although not all changes from the pandemic have stayed, the concept of flexibility has remained important for many workers and companies. For people living a modern Second 50 life, looking after ageing parents or managing their own health could lead to an increase in demand for adaptable work patterns.

Transition from work to retirement

There are a few ways you might consider supporting the more gradual transition away from the workplace. For example, offering more part-time roles or introducing new leave policies might allow your employees to balance work alongside their other ‘Second 50’ commitments.

Supporting employees' retirement saving

Running out of money is the number one concern people have for later life. So, in helping your employees to understand and engage with their workplace pension scheme, you could foster better saving habits and instil confidence. Learn more about promoting your scheme on our website.

What’s next

All of the findings and takeaways from this article are from our new report, ‘The Second 50: Navigating a multi-stage life’. As we move towards the multi-stage life, you can help support your employees adapt, especially those who are aged over 50, by understanding their relationship, expectations and concerns for work and retirement in later life.

  1. Life expectancy calculator. Males born in 2023 – life expectancy = 88 years, 1 in 4 chance of living to 97. Females born in 2023 – life expectancy = 90 years, 1 in 4 chance of living to 99. Data source, Office for National Statistics, calculated in October 2023.
  2. More than one in four sandwich carers report symptoms of mental ill-health. Data Source, Office for National Statistics, 2019.
  3. Returning to the workplace – the motivations and barriers for people aged 50 years and over, Great Britain: August 2022. Data source, Office for National Statistics, 2022.
  4. Living longer: how our population is changing and why it matters. Data source, Office for National Statistics, 2018.


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