As record numbers of people over 50 work part-time, three who have reduced their hours explain why.
Simon Woodall, 52, a self-employed carpenter and joiner from Plymouth, says he worked “70 hours a week, for 30 years”, until he had a heart attack in June last year.
“The medical staff just said: ‘You have stress-related heart disease, if you keep going, you’re not gonna last very long, no matter what tablets you take or how much healthy food you eat.’
This triggered a wild change of lifestyle, and if I do 30 hours that’s quite a busy week for me now.”
Woodall is one of many dozens of Britons aged 50 and over who shared with the Guardian why they had recently decided to go part-time.
Health issues, a better lifestyle, caring responsibilities, a lack of flexible jobs and a general disillusionment with work were the reasons cited most frequently.
Record numbers of people in the UK in their 50s and older are in part-time work, according to data from the Office for National Statistics, with one-quarter of workers in their 50s working part-time.
The data reveals that 3.6 million older people are working parttime in the UK, a 12% increase since 2021. Analysis shows 42% of the UK’s part-time workers are over 50.
Having cut his working week in half, Woodall, who is the sole earner in his household, has seen his income drop by 35-40%, to which his family has had to adjust.
“We have to cut the cloth. I’ve switched to a more basic TV package, we sold our caravan, think more about what we spend. My pension has performed so poorly I’ll never be able to retire fully, but I’d rather work less and be alive for another 30 years than have an extra £10k a year. I’ll be of no use to anybody if I’m 6 feet under.”
Woodall says many people in his social circle have come to the same conclusion since the pandemic.
“I could probably name 20 people like myself who, since Covid, just went ‘I quite like being at home with my wife and children’, and take it easy now, or have retired early – guys my age who used to do 50 to 60 hours minimum. I think a lot of people’s attitudes have changed. I’m feeling better – pretty good, actually.”
Sue, 57, from West Yorkshire, worked full-time in higher education administration for many years and decided in spring 2022 that she had had enough.
“I chose to go down to three days because the commute was long – up to an hour and a half one way – and expensive, with public transport regularly failing,” she says. “Working from home during the pandemic proved that the commute was pointless, so I chose to reduce hours as working from home was being discouraged.
I don’t agree with presenteeism and the organisation has brought in hotdesking, so the commute is worse now, having to schlep in with laptop, mug, etc.
“If I could work from home I would consider doing more hours but it’s not worth it to me as the pay is pathetically low for my knowledge, experience and skill set, so I value my time more. I also couldn’t see any career progression, and I’m not giving my soul to any organisation when they’d get rid of you at the drop of a hat.”
What also convinced her to reduce her hours, Sue says, was the crippling cost and scarce availability of childcare in her area – a
factor referenced by others in their decision to switch to parttime working, alongside caring responsibilities for elderly family members.
“I’ve got two young grandchildren under four and childcare is so expensive that my husband is looking after them one morning and I do another morning. My daughter couldn’t afford paying for full-time childcare,” Sue says. Although she says she wouldn’t swap working part-time for a full-time job now, her family’s long-term financial outlook is not good, Sue admits.
“Neither of us have good pensions, because work hasn’t paid well enough compared to housing and the general cost of living. My full-time pay for managing 20 people was £28k, which is pathetic, a poverty wage. Going part-time means I’ll have to work longer, but I couldn’t have saved for an early retirement anyway.
“I worry about this country’s future and for the next generations as work doesn’t pay well enough and it feels like the social contract has long been broken.”
Louise Hirons, 51, a dental hygienist from Banbury, Oxfordshire, says she went part-time primarily for a better work-life balance, and hopes to retire fully by between 55 and 60.
“I felt after turning 50 I was getting close to retirement, then realised it was still more than 15 years away. I’ve worked since I was 16. It feels endless,” she says.
“But I also had a cancer diagnosis two years ago. I’m fine, and it’s all been dealt with, but it was a bit of a wake-up call. Before that we were just kind of heads down, working, and I think it’s made us both realise that life is short and that you need to enjoy it. My children are adults and working full-time, our mortgage is almost paid, so we can afford to work less. We are lucky.”
Hirons says her 50s felt like a good time to go part-time because her own and her husband’s parents are still able to live independently without their help, which, she is acutely aware, could change further down the line.
“This is the first time we can be selfish in 25 years,” she says.
“My husband, who is also 51, has a wholesale business and is now trying to hire a manager to do his job. We have longer holidays and long weekends. We feel we have earned it and when we reach retirement age we may not be fit enough to get through the bucket list. Fifty is a good starting point to try and live more.”
Although working less suits the family well currently, Hirons has concerns about the financial repercussions of cutting back from full-time work.
“Pensions are a worry. We have been ploughing money into private ones, but who knows if we’ll have enough to last, we don’t know how long we will live. It’ll all depend on how much we will sell the business for,” she says.
“But ultimately, there’s more to life than money. Don’t work too hard, you’re not here for long.”
(Article source: The Guardian)