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.

Start Quote

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 434.

    I fins some of the comments from 50-something workers attacking 20-something job seekers as 'lazy', 'ill-mannered', 'poorly educated' etc staggering.

    Not only does this display the same level of ageist stereotyping they complain about themselves, but they're talking about the generation they brought into the world. You made them this way, you take the blame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    I was fired from my job at 55. Not only could I not get another as you are deemed to old by most companies and agencies (and I wanted more than shelf stacking) You are regarded as a scrounger for claiming benefits and are unable to claim your pension.The government should realise that they can raise the retirement age as high as they like but companies will not take on anyone over the age of 50.

  • Comment number 262.

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

  • 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 215.

    The 'older generation' on the whole [in no particular order]: better educated under the old school system, better mannered, punctual, have a better work ethic, aren't full of a sense of entitlement, experienced, I could go on......I am 44 and guarantee I could knock spots off of most young people because of these things. Society has kidded the young that they are somehow worth more.


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