Should job-hogging over-50s all resign?

Man at desk covered in cobwebs

Too few jobs. Rising unemployment, especially for young people. Here's a radical solution, says commentator on office and workplace life, Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times (born 1959).

Wasting time on the internet recently I came upon a nasty statistic. In the next 10 years, there will be 1.2bn young people looking for work and only 300m jobs to go around.

Next to this stark stat was an invitation to write an essay on what you would do to solve the problem.

My essay is quite short and can be summarised in one word.


Out of office

People queuing outside Job Centre
  • Default retirement age was effectively scrapped in the UK last October
  • UK Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal by a solicitor told to retire just after his 65th birthday

This inescapable, awkward truth has been rammed home to me in the past few months as I keep meeting bright people in their 20s and 30s desperate for a job in journalism - and for mine in particular.

I fob them off with platitudes but the real reason they can't do my job is that I'm doing it myself.

The same is true for almost all professions. The young can't advance because everywhere they find my complacent generation is in situ. Thus the only way of solving the problem is to make everyone of a certain age, say over 50, walk the plank.

Before I go any further, I ought to make one thing clear. This is not a resignation letter - I intend to hang on for dear life. It is just that I can't resist pointing out the obvious, even though it is not in my interests to do so.

The choice boils down to whether it's better for people to have a decade at the beginning or at the end of their careers where they are demoralised and underemployed. The answer is easy: surely it is better to be more active at the beginning.

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Almost all the people earning grotesque amounts are aged over 50”

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To have people idle at a time when they are full of energy and their grey-cell count is at a maximum is a shocking waste.

And in any case, my generation has had it very good for much too long. We bought houses when they were still just about affordable. We had free education and pensions. It's all been jolly nice, and I've enjoyed it a lot. Now is the time to start to pay.

Shifting from old to young would bring down wages and would also solve the executive pay problem in one shot. Almost all the people earning grotesque amounts are over 50 - getting rid of them would mean CEO pay would come thumping down.

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I have tried this idea out on various contemporaries and they all say it's rubbish. They mutter about the "lump of labour fallacy" with a panicky look in their eyes. Then they say think about the loss of experience.

I reply that experience can be overrated; in any case, I'm not advocating giving huge jobs to children, but to those in their 40s, who have 15 or 20 years' experience, which is surely just as good as 30 or even 40.

Skeleton in a tie The job for life is dead

Then they protest that the people at the top are there because they are good, and getting rid of good people is stupid.

This is true up to a point, but there are surely younger people who are good too. Anyway, I might bend the rules to let some ageing superstars - of whom there are very, very few - stay on.

I'm not saying I like the idea. I'm just saying I believe it.

And I'm submitting this as my essay for the prize. I see that the winner gets $10,000. I hope I don't win. Although if I do, I'll need the money.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    I think RomeAnna has the right idea. Have shorter working hours and share the work around. Yes that means a cut for those in work, but a chance for those out of work. What to do with all that spare time? Well I don't go for national service, but community service? Yes. If compulsory then I'd think it healthy for top execs and politicians to have to do 10 hours a week helping those less fortunate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    A lot of 50 somethings are the first to get culled in business restructures and getting another job at that age is as hard as getting one at 18. Whilst a few have good pensions to fall back on, many do not as employers have whittled away at benefits over the decades. Pensions etc are getting worse and worse and Governments say we must work longer, so if everybody resigned at 50 what would happen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Job creation is easy.. just invent something, like.. oh I don't know, a new medical condition (ADHD anyone?), a new QUANGO, a charity for the protection of something pointless (cardboard boxes?), a climate problem, a new Union.. a quick read of any major news media and it seems obvious to me the "smart" people have been doing this for years..

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    I was persuaded to retire at 57, then I was asked to come back to cover maternity leave for my replacement! (Answer predictable ...)

    My pension isn't enough to live on in the UK so I moved abroad and now act as mentor for an aid charity - best days of my life. However, that won't work for everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    when I was 16 I was told that I would not earn a good wage until I was told I would not earn a good salary until my mid 40's . I spent 20 years getting the expierence for jobs that you have to be over 50 to occupy. Its not a question of age. Its expierence and qualification and you cannot go on a course called expierence. If you dont make yourself employable you remain unemployed. I am 57.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Thanks for spelling out the reasons why (although no employer will dare say this) ageism and the cost of individual (high value, or at least highly paid) employes are a significant factor in redundancy decision making . Thanks also admitting your hypocrisy "you'll hang on to your job". Perhaps euthanasia is the solution. We won't have impoverished, unemployable over 50's cluttering up the economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    When I was a child the norm was that most men worked to earn money and most women were responsible for looking after the children. It seemed to me a better system than we have now, so a better solution may be if all the women resigned. Perhaps Lucy could lead the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Crikey, I've been banging on about this for ages: with automation reaching just about every activity, how will the rapidly dimishing amount of human work be shared out? This is why the gov insisting that people work into their late 60s was ill-conceived. I'll bet most in their 50s would LOVE to resign (ie retire).

    Another solution is to limit the number of hours individuals can work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Not wanting to be stirring the PC brigade, or stating the obvious, but don't you think this little island is a tad overcrowded with people ????

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    We're at the same point as the argument over our austerity measures. We don't have enough work and it seems the only solution is for the government to encourage entrepreneurs to start businesses and employ people. The over fifties have experience that takes years to gain and isn't easy to replace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    My chum drove up in his Merc, bored us with their recent holiday abroad then let us know about their next holiday abroad, said how badly paid they were then complained that there were no jobs to consider a change. Some people just can't put two and two together and come up with four. But just try telling them that economics begin at home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    I think this say more about journalist and what they do and people do a Couse in media studies than the real world may be the young people have spotted a job where you don’t need experience and the over 50 are so tainted with what they did in the past the maybe they should all go and be replaced

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    I am fifty, next year. Much as I would like to retire early, the Government won't let me. Although they want me to work till I drop, and they keep moving the retirement "goal posts" I shall certainly not work past 65.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    It's criminal to have so many young people unemployed
    So why not introduce a compulsory retirement age of 60?
    Oh yeah it's because successive governments have raised the retirement age to save on pension payments!

    If you want to create full employment, send home 2million foreigners, problem solved, of course employers would then have to pay a decent wage and we'd have to leave the EU

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Have to agree although wouldn't go a slow as 50, maybe 55. Those retiring would still have a good few years of decent health to enjoy their retirement and yes of course it would free up jobs for the young and motivated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    This sort of thing is already happening in the work place. Young over-promoted "look-at-me" bully managers don't want older people in their team, often because they know too much and are a potential source of ego-harm. Young staff are cheap and generally won't question dubious decision making.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Really? Can I???

    And you are going to pay for my retirement after the pensions con emptied my pension and left it worth £3.50???

    Please - I have lots of things I could be getting on with.......

    Oh wait...then I would be a "benefit Scrounger", vilified, made to feel like I should be wor.......hold on......errrr does not compute.....

    for sakes GET A GRIP!!


  • Comment number 233.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    First off, I've just turned 50 and earn less than half the national average wage so can't afford to retire. Secondly, even if over 50's retired it doesn't mean under 30's would fill those jobs and thirdly, blaming older people for the problems that some youngsters face is as lame as those who are too damn idle to get off their backsides blaming the influx of Europeans! Whatever will be will be!

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    It is about time that people stopped blaming older people for the problems of a capitalist system. The ruling media is going all out to split working people against each other to try to deflect away from the real reason these problems of lack of work - Capitalism. Not the first time the media has blamed the wrong people for the failing of the system. Nazi Germany for instance.


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