JSpencer, 103 – a prime example of you’re as young as they think, as columnist Catherine Whitehorn once said – has decided that after 70 years as tireless matriarch Peggy Woolley it’s time to retire from BBC Radio Four’s Archers. “In 1950, I helped plant an acorn… Archers“, she explained. “Over the years it has grown into a magnificent large tree with many branches. But now this old branch, known as Peggy, has become weak and dangerous, so I decided it was time to ‘hew it out’, so I duly cut it off.”

Also announced last week was the retirement of Serena Williams, the queen of the tennis court for more than 20 years. U Fashion In an interview, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, now 40, announced: “I’m retiring from tennis … I’m ready for what’s next.” The reason for leaving sports in her case is not surprising for many women: namely, you can’t have everything. At least not on the terms currently being offered.

In the September issue of the magazine, Williams explains that she never wanted to choose between tennis and family, but hopes for a second child. “I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy… I would play there and win, and my wife would do manual labor to expand our family.” The mother of five-year-old Olympia said: “I definitely don’t want to be pregnant again as an athlete.”

Once, not too long ago, an employee worked his 30 or 40 years at the same job and retired with a clock in his wagon only to retire a few years later. Work-life balance and raising a family were part of an invisible world in which most employers had little interest and little investment.

For decades, women have lobbied for more flexibility in the workplace, a three-day work week without losing their careers, and almost nothing has changed. Family responsibilities and astronomical childcare costs meant that for many, early retirement was not so much a choice as an obligation. Then came Covid-19.

Working from home has become the norm, “lost” commuting hours have been rediscovered, thousands of employees have attempted a form of semi-liberation from the rat race, and the resulting work ethic is apparently far from good. . Last week, Dame Sharon White, chairman of John Lewis, appealed to the one million people, mostly aged 50 to 70, who were out of work during the pandemic to return to the job market. She said many of those leaving could cause “profound, long-term systemic effects” that would lead to lower productivity and lower growth rates. Sure, economic hardships may make some go back – but there’s a lot wrong with the social contract between employers and bosses, so why don’t many call it a day in a working life that now too often brings so few rewards?

A recent PCS union survey of 12,000 mostly junior civil servants found that 40% had to take out a loan or credit to pay for essential purchases, 9% required help to supplement their income and 14% took on second or third jobs work to earn. ends with ends. In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that a 15-hour paid workweek would become possible in the 21st century thanks to improvements in productivity and technology. Instead, for many, the working week has lengthened, the outlook is precarious, frequent career/job changes are the expectation, and wages haven’t budged in years due to rising inflation and energy bills. Against this background, some have been forced to retire early due to layoffs, illness or family obligations, while for others it is not so much a choice as a simple trade-off: living more economically but a few years longer.

June Spencer, pictured in 2019, is retiring from The Archers aged 103. Photo: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

The impact of Covid on employment practices means that, despite calls from some politicians and economists to delay the official retirement age to 67 or older, for many, whether to opt out is increasingly a personal decision. For the June Spencers of this world, able to control their work hours, in love with what they do, retirement may never be an option. Others may feel unable to relinquish the identity and status they believe their work gives them – but what about those who do ‘dirty’ or backbreaking work, a shift at a slaughterhouse, a construction site or an overworked hospital emergency room? And if a 75-year-old man is sitting at a desk, does that prevent a twenty-something man from finding a job?

U Time is on our side: Why we all need a shorter work week, published in 2013, a range of voices made the case for social justice for all those working fewer hours (30 hours over four days) for living wages, creating a new consensus about what constitutes a “good life.” Unfortunately, in the wake of COVID-19, this still seems like a pipe dream.

The agenda to convince men and women to work longer if that is what the economy demands and White is not difficult. Subsidized affordable childcare, reasonable hours, fair pay, flexibility, on-the-job skills training and respect are obvious demands. The Social Market Foundation think tank recently published a report on London’s working poor. All participants stated that business should be “more understanding, attentive and proactive”. Or, more simply, treat the employee as someone with a world outside the workplace, and he or she may want to stay the course a little longer.

Yvonne Roberts is a freelance journalist, writer and presenter

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