The silent challenge: Overemployment facing the over 50s

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New analysis suggests that a high proportion of older workers are locked into working long hours against their will, some of whom have long-term health problems

 This week we published a major new report into the employment challenges facing older workers in the UK with the support of PRIME and BITC: The Missing Million: illuminating the Employment Challenges of the Over 50s. While the report has gained publicity regarding the potential economic benefit of preventing early exit from the labour market, there is a critical challenge highlighted by the research that deserves more attention – overemployment.



 Underemployment – a situation where workers want to work more hours has received coverage since the Great Recession as it implies that the UK labour market is still falling short of “full employment” and subsequently rising real wages. See this blog from David Blanchflower for more. While underemployment is undoubtedly a problem facing many individuals, the opposite problem of overemployment – where people would like to work less hours – has received little or no attention.

A desire to work fewer hours may ultimately lead to someone leaving their job if this demand is not met with additional flexibility from employers. In this context, overemployment is an issue worth exploring because it could be linked with early exit from the labour market with adverse implications for UK GDP as well as personal financial wellbeing for those who leave well in advance of State Pension age.


The evidence

 With this in mind, our research explored overemployment across age bands using the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (Q1 2014). We found that overemployment peaks between the ages of 55 to 64. Of all those employed amongst this age group, over 35% would like to work fewer hours and, perhaps most tellingly, over 15% would like to work fewer hours even if it meant less money. This suggests that there may be a cohort of older workers who are locked into working long hours, and whose preference for additional flexibility is not being met by their employer.



Perhaps most worryingly of all, the over 50s have the largest proportion of workers working long hours who are also suffering from a long-term health problem. Our analysis of the data shows that over 8% of all people employed in the 60-64 age bracket are working over 45 hours per week while also experiencing a health problem which has lasted (or is expected to last) for more than 12 months. Working long hours while also suffering from ill health is likely to be a particularly powerful combination to drag people out of work.




While the demand for more flexible working has been well documented, the evidence base underpinning this need is not always well articulated. This new evidence on overemployment facing the over 50s illustrates this pressing need – one that must be met if we are to prevent continued early exit from the labour force.


Author: Ben Franklin, Senior Research Fellow, ILC-UK.



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One thought on “The silent challenge: Overemployment facing the over 50s

  1. Thanks for a very interesting post. We have been commissioned by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK) to identify ways of supporting people through ‘Transitions in Later Life’. Preparation for retirement is one of the focal points of our research and as such we’ve been looking at initiatives to promote flexible working and phased retirement [see our website]. Can we make a link to your blog or indeed would you like to write a guest blog for our website?

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