‘You are your age and still working?’ the French woman said to me, in French, eyebrows arched. ‘How very strange.’ She had just invited us to spend another week in the cottage in Normandy that we were renting from her. It wasn’t booked for the coming week, and we were obviously enjoying our holiday, so why not?
She had thought that a man of my age must inevitably be retired, as I would have been in France. But I’d had to tell her that I was due back at work on Monday and so couldn’t spend another week amongst the trees and fields and wildlife of rural Normandy, more’s the pity.
Why that snippet of autobiography? Because tomorrow is the second anniversary of the day (6 April 2011) that the coalition changed the law to begin phasing out the default retirement age (DRA).
It has set me – and, I am sure, employment lawyers, employers and other workers d’un certain âge – to thinking about retirement. Was the abolition a good thing for employers in that it retains older talent or is it a bad thing for employees in that it blocks jobs for younger people?
Is retirement at 65 years of age archaic given that we are all now supposed to be living longer? Do employers resent being told that they can’t retire staff like they used to?
National firm Eversheds has undertaken a survey of 307 employers to find an answer to these and other questions.
The key finding is that one-half of respondents say that the abolition of the DRA has made no real difference to their organisation. So was it all a storm in a teacup?
Not really. Many of the 307 report that the change has had negative effects for their organisation. Two-thirds say it poses difficulties in succession planning, while just under half report that it blocks opportunities for younger workers. More than a third complain about the increased costs of redundancies and/or providing benefits, while just under a third say that they have to spend more time on performance management.
And just over one-fifth report an increase in ill-health absence.
However, it is not all gloomy news. A third of the 307 report improvements in retaining important skills and knowledge and between one-sixth and a quarter say they are saving time and money on recruitment, training and dealing with retirement procedures.
There is also good news about age discrimination claims, with only 12 of the 307 saying they have increased compared to 18 saying they have decreased.
Overall, one-third feel that the abolition of the DRA has had a negative or very negative effect on their organisation compared with one-seventh who say the change has been positive or very positive.
All fascinating stuff, but what about the people on the ground – in this instance, the employment lawyers who deal with the consequences of the change?
Nick Ralph, a partner at City employment law firm Archon, said that the expected ‘surge’ in age discrimination claims has not happened. He said: ‘One explanation could be that employers have taken the opportunity of the dip in the market to make people redundant in preference to undertaking time-consuming performance management.
‘Or maybe it’s just a slow burn. Certainly procedures are being tightened up – older people tend to be higher paid and so there is more at stake if discrimination can be proved.’
So there you have it. Two years on there is no strident clamour for the reintroduction of the DRA. Nobody seems too exercised about bosses being no longer able to retire people solely on the grounds of age and employees, many of whom can’t afford to retire, aren’t too bothered, either.
So it’s still back to work on Monday for me, then, and au revoir les vacances.
Jonathan Rayner is a reporter at the Gazette
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