Talking about mid-life – how conversations make a difference in the workplace

Anne Willmot, Business in the Community Age Campaign Director writes of the importance of conversation and why age should not be a taboo subject. 

The Hundred Year Life
We all like to talk – over a coffee, in the queue at the supermarket, maybe on social media. And we all talk about a lot of things. But one thing people still don’t feel comfortable talking about is our age.

With a 100 year life on the radar for an increasing number of us, we need to be able to talk about age – not least when we are at work.  Fear your age will count against you is particularly true in the workplace, where people fear admitting their age will lead to age bias or even direct discrimination against them. In fact only 20% of people over 50 feel they can talk openly with their manager about retirement plans, only 21% can talk about adjusting their current role, and only 24% feel they can talk about future career plans at all.(1)

This doesn’t make sense. People have important decisions to make in their 40s, 50s and 60s– about staying in work, when to retire, how they can balance work with responsibilities to care for family members, how much they need to save and making plans for the future they want.

What is the solution?
A real difference can be made by ‘mid-life MOTs’, the name that has been coined to describe conversations about work, health and well-being, and financial planning. It’s not a great name – but the idea is a good one.  We prefer the term mid-life navigator – where people can think about where they are now, where they want to be in the future and how to navigate between the two. In particular, they can focus on what might need to change, either now or in the future.

Mid-life MOT pilots have provided participants with one to one support, group seminars, peer discussions and directed on-line advisory tools. In these sessions, people in mid-life can talk and think about their futures. They can think about and discuss options to change their way of working, perhaps moving to a flexible working pattern or home-working, and explore opportunities for training and career development. They can consider their health and well-being and also make plans to ensure their pension will provide the income they want in the future.

Demand for employers to help is high:94% of employees at Aviva signed up for a mid-life MOT  with  the benefit of these valuable conversations, people feel confident to stay in work for longer. So supporting employees in mid-life can drive retention of older workers. Aviva, one of our Age Campaign Leadership Team partners, piloted mid-life MOTs last year to 100 of their staff over 45. Their research found that 24% of people in mid-life would feel reassured by a mid-life MOT that they could work for longer as their skills would still be valued. They are now offering it to all employees aged 45+.(2)

Driving retention in the older workers delivers for the bottom line. By holding on to more older workers, businesses can retain crucial knowledge and skills within the organisation and dramatically decrease business costs. Research consultancy Oxford Economics found that it costs an average of £30,000 to replace an employee and train their replacement to the same level.(3)

Our call to action
The BITC age campaign wants businesses to implement mid-life MOTs for their employees. To support you in doing this, we have developed a new toolkit which provides practical advice and insights on pilot activity undertaken by businesses which are adopting forward-thinking policies and practices on age.

The toolkit is targeted at senior and HR managers and directors to help achieve buy-in for implementing a mid-life MOT in your organisation. It presents evidence on the business case around driving productivity, reducing costs and managing risk. It also presents detail of pilot programmes which have been run to date and offers a range of strategies for implementing a mid-life MOT programme so you can decide which approach will work best for your business. Finally, it helps you to think about the support structures and frameworks you will need to put in place to support effective introduction of mid-life MOTs to gain maximum business impact and benefit for your employees.




(1) Centre for Ageing Better (2018) ‘Age discrimination in the workplace’

(2) Aviva (2019) ‘Working on tomorrow today: Mid-life in the UK 2019’.

(3) HR Review February 2014 ‘It costs over £30K to replace a staff member’