April 24, 2024


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Changing Jobs At Midlife Is Good For Your Career – And Your Salary

6 min read
Changing Jobs At Midlife Is Good For Your Career – And Your Salary

Thinking of hanging on in your current job until retirement? Think again. New research from the OECD, presented at a recent conference in Paris, strongly suggests that change is good for you – across multiple dimensions: your work, wealth and wellness. The report, done with the support of America’s AARP, is titled Promoting Better Career Choices for Longer Working Lives – Stepping Up Not Stepping Out. It is the third in a series of deep dives into how longevity is impacting work across all 38 OECD countries. The conference showcased the report’s finding on how countries, companies and individuals are adapting to the new longevity’s impact on the future of work.

Workers aged 45 to 64 already constitute a massive 41% of the 2022 OECD workforce, up from 29% in 1990. As younger populations shrink, employers may want to rethink their job recruitment and retention strategies to manage this new generational balance. As individuals stay longer in the workforce, they’ll want to revisit their career planning – and adjust it for longer lives. The 2022 AARP Global Employee Survey revealed that fully half the 45+ workforce was hoping to change jobs with three years. Will companies help or hinder them?

Squiggly Careers Win

The research is promising for the restless, the radical and the newly redundant. Many traditional definitions of success include stability, mastery and linear continuity. The corporate world and its career management systems are built around the ‘ladder’ – an up-or-out vertical climb towards more (power, people, P&L).

The data gathered by the OECD seems instead to point towards an emerging, longer-living world that rewards disruption, redefinition and mobility. Discontinuity is becoming an opportunity for growth. “Workers who changed jobs mid-career are significantly more likely to be employed at age 60,” says Shruti Singh, the OECD Senior Economist heading up the research. “Older workers who change job voluntarily tend to have wage increases, compared to those who don’t – or are forced to switch jobs.”

It’s also essential for the economy. “Effective career mobility is crucial for boosting labour market responsiveness to economic changes and for improved productivity,” notes the report.

Mobility As The New Sustainability

Too bad most of us don’t know that mobility helps employability. Most Q3 (age 50+) workers aren’t (yet) moving. Only 6% of workers aged 55-64 change jobs in any given year across OECD countries. That’s about half the 11% of their younger colleagues, aged 25-44. The majority of those who move benefit – both in terms of work flexibility and mental health.

Many workers may yearn for change – but can’t overcome the numerous existing obstacles in their way. Across OECD countries, job mobility has increased – but only by 1.5% between 2012 and 2020. The report lists the multiplicity of hurdles job-changers face: age, location, health, care responsibilities, motherhood penalties, technological change, inflexible jobs, ageism… In addition, adding insult to injury, older workers are less likely to have age-friendly jobs.

No wonder confidence becomes a major issue in facing the very idea of change. “For many older workers with less-than-ideal working conditions,” notes the OECD, “changing occupations can seem so daunting that some do not begin their job search at all.” Conference panelist Richard Alderson, CEO of Careershifters, confirmed that despite all the considerable external obstacles, some of the biggest obstacles were in fact internal ones. So that for many, what they mostly require to move is support and community.

Addressing these barriers is key to unleashing the potential of a massive and growing segment of the population – the older. Which should be of interest to both companies and governments facing the growing skill shortages characterising ageing societies that don’t adapt.

Making Moving Easier – What Companies Can Do

Currently, job mobility falls rapidly with age. Under age 30, 17% of workers change jobs annually. That drops to around 7% by age 45. But if moving contributes to better outcomes for individuals, how do companies and governments make mobility more seamless? Especially for later career shifts? Individuals may be a bit readier to change than employers.

Small signals from employers who are open to older employees’ mobility have a powerful impact, noted Helen Tupper, CEO of Amazing If, during a conference panel. “Our research shows that simply by putting a note at the top of an internal job posting that this position is ‘open to employee mobility’ improved the application rate by 30%.” However, she warned, this didn’t yet translate into improved appointments. Ageism is the current default context in most companies, so hiring managers need to be prepared and trained for more age-neutral mobility and staffing decisions. Getting managers (of all ages) skilled at working across generations is the parallel condition to getting individuals moving.

A corporate panel highlighted two CEOs, Patrice Segui from BNP Paribas Portugal and Laurent Bataille of Schneider Electric France, who were rolling out measures to proactively invest in the retention and development of their 50+ employees. From midlife career reviews and conversations to special training programmes and upskilling opportunities. Bataille said Schneider Electric launched its Future Ready programme back in 2021 after they discovered a significant engagement gap among their Q3 employees. Further research underlined a diversity of profiles in this age group, which they segmented into four: ‘Continue, Pivot, Retire and Accelerate.’ Then, he noted, the crucial management follow-up is good conversations with individuals on their next decade’s career plans.

The easiest form of mobility, notes the report, is the in-company kind. But the OECD calls out the “implicit or explicit ageist attitudes that undermine the fluidity” of older workers’ shifts and suggests a broad range of measures to encourage more of them. It also warns that the growing use of AI in recruiting and assessment risks embedding existing age biases into future talent management. This takes conscious weeding out.

The Promoting Better Career Choices Report shares many successful experiments and case studies of companies that are learning how to better attract, retain and develop Q3 talent. These include:

  • Identify better skill matches for Q3 workers within the organisation
  • Help Q3 workers plan for career transitions
  • Attract Q3 workers with remote work
  • Mitigate the motherhood penalty with policies proactively improving career mobility for women
  • Keep Q3 workers flexibly engaged with consulting and independent contracts to offer a smoother, lengthier transition towards retirement
  • Support Q3 workers to redesign their roles with job crafting initiatives
  • Rethink and redesign seniority-based wages and tenure-pay policies

The report’s wealth of examples and tools builds on the prior report, The Midcareer Opportunity, Meeting the Challenges of an Ageing Workforce, and both are essential reading for all leaders who’ve realised that their workforce is balancing across ages and generations.

How Governments Get Longevity-Ready

The final panel of the day featured three of the world’s oldest countries – Japan, Italy and Austria. Their ambassadors shared the increasing priority that longevity was getting on their national planning agenda, and the myriad policies starting to surface. Japan has become the world’s longevity policy laboratory, as its population ageing has led the world trend, but Italy is catching up fast.

Japan created its Society 5.0 concept in 2016 to design a super-intelligent, AI-powered approach to its generationally balanced reality. It is embedding information technologies, big data, industrial design, automation and AI to mainstream longevity needs across all infrastructure and services.

The report proposes a list of concrete suggestions for how governments can encourage and support mobility, with case studies from experiences in different countries. Because all countries in the world are now ageing, and sooner or later will face the same challenges. It’s easier if you prepare ahead. Adaptations include:

  • Greater use of apprenticeships and work experience programmes
  • Recognising Q3 workers’ skills and experience
  • Supporting transitions out of arduous or hazardous jobs
  • Facilitating geographic mobility
  • Alleviating institutional and regulatory barriers, like occupational licensing
  • Addressing barriers to entrepreneurship
  • Reviewing financial incentives to leaving the labour market

The report makes a powerful case to bundle three key 21st century shifts together in our future of work planning: “the green transition, the digital revolution and rising longevity are the main global trends transforming traditional career paths and influencing a shift towards more fluid and diverse career trajectories.” Our future will be green, digital and older.

For the moment, conversations and policies about career mobility, learning and promotion often focus on younger workers. This needs to change – preferably before your workforce ages too much. “Designing sustainable mobility for longer careers calls for expanding our lens to include a whole-of-life-course perspective, starting early” recommends Shruti. And for countries and companies to support us all in (re)building confidence and competence throughout our lengthening lives and careers.

Related OECD Reports:

The Midcareer Opportunity, Meeting the Challenges of an Ageing Workforce, 2022

Working Better With Age, 2019


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