Much has been written about the ageing workforce and how more and more people plan to work past official retirement age. But what is less known is that a small but growing number of Baby Boomers are being forced to cut short their working lives to care for elderly relatives. Independent research suggests this is having a lasting impact on Baby Boomers’ confidence levels and skills – findings that are echoed by Talent Works own research. With the number of carers in Britain predicted to reach 9 million by 2037 more must be done to raise awareness and understanding of the cost of caring on older workers.

By 2020 half the UK working population will be over 50. One in five UK workers definitely plan to continue working past official retirement age and only 12 per cent of UK workers do not intend to work past the age of 65. But behind these statistics there exists a growing number of workers in their 50s and 60s, who are being forced to give up work just when their experience and knowledge is at its peak.

An inquiry by the charity Carers UK which ran from 2013 to 2014, found that growing numbers of workers in their 50s and 60s are being forced to take early retirement, to give up work or reduce their hours to care for a relative.

  • 1 in 5 people aged 50 to 64 had caring responsibilities.
  • 3 million people had given up work to care for a relative.
  • 3 million had reduced their working hours to care.
  • Just over a fifth of carers aged 55 to 64 had taken early retirement.

Unfortunately, many of those who are forced to cut short their working lives are forced to do so because of a lack of understanding and flexibility on the part of their employer, research for the inquiry showed. Many Baby Boomers who took part in the Carers inquiry described “sticking their heads above the parapet” to tell colleagues and managers they had caring responsibilities and might need flexibility. A fifth of carers said they had given up work because of workplace issues round getting flexible hours or a lack of understanding from their employer. For some, the lack of understanding and flexibility on the part of their employer had seriously affected their mental wellbeing.

 “Trying to cope with everything, mostly on my own, no unbroken night’s sleep, employers not understanding my position at all. I eventually suffered a breakdown.”

Returning to work after taking time out to be a full-time carer is equally difficult and fraught. Many struggle to get back into work and to earn as much as they did before they took time out to be a full time carer. Research for the inquiry also showed that former carers lack confidence and skills when they are ready to return to work.

“Companies just don’t hire at that age; I will never get those earnings back”

The lack of confidence and skills former carers reported when they were ready to return to work is echoed in Talent Work’s own Gen Up research. An extensive and ongoing programme of research into the multigenerational workplace, Gen Up found that only 32 per cent of Baby Boomers feel well-equipped for the world of work. But they are keen to plug the skills gap, even willing to accept that there are things they can learn from younger colleagues: when Talent Works asked Baby Boomers if they were comfortable having a younger boss, 68 per cent said they were very comfortable. Only three per cent said they were not at all comfortable. Like their younger counterparts the Baby Boomers we surveyed had a preference for an open plan office that is conducive to learning from others.

Baby Boomers are often portrayed as the lucky generation who were fortunate enough to experience that perfect mix of free higher education, free healthcare, affordable mortgages and final salary pension schemes. But the “lucky generation” hides a small but growing number of Baby Boomers who are being forced to cut short their working lives to care for elderly relatives. Many Baby Boomers lack confidence and don’t feel well equipped for the world of work. Former carers especially lack confidence and skills when returning to work, enough for it to be a barrier to re-entering the workplace.

We need to raise awareness and understanding of the very real challenges many Baby Boomers face and adapt to those challenges. High on the list of things employers must do is provide the training and development programmes that will address Baby Boomers’ lack of confidence and plug their skills gaps. Employers will not get the most out of this fundamental section of the workforce if they don’t adapt the way they treat older workers.