A plan to ease mid-life crisis

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The Independent Online
A MID-LIFE crisis can destroy a good working environment.

Managers and supervisors may start shouting at staff, shop-floor workers find production targets impossible to meet, and reliable staff turn up late. Employees may need encouragement to think positively and plan for the rest of their lives.

Voluntary Action Leicester, which represents self-help and other voluntary groups, ran its first mid-life planning course last month, helping people to map out their futures. 'It came about because of the demand from employers, who had asked whether we were doing longer-term preparation for retirement,' said Carol Varley, VAL's retirement planning manager. It is intended to become a regular event.

The course was open to any 40 to 50-year-old employee of a local organisation, and attracted equal interest from executives facing early retirement and part-time, low-paid women without occupational pensions. Participants were guaranteed that all financial advice was independent and impartial.

They were also told that they could become volunteers after retirement.

'We want to prevent people from making the mistakes we see in our pre-retirement courses,' Ms Varley said. She took as an example people who were temporarily out of work in the early 1980s and failed to maintain adequate pension contributions. 'Now they have an insufficient income and are paying for their redundancy a second time.'

The mid-life period can be one of enormous stress, which must be recognised by employers, Ms Varley said. 'Staff may have to come to terms with children growing up and leaving the nest, becoming sexually active, perhaps coming out as gay.

'They themselves may be coming up for promotion, or be passed over. It is a time of great pressure, and it comes out at work.'

The Birmingham Retirement Council has run pre-retirement courses for 30 years, and also holds mid-career and redundancy courses. On 3 March it will be holding a seminar aimed at persuading personnel directors that employers gain from sending staff on mid-career planning courses.

'The benefits for the employer are that it improves morale and performance by giving direction to older employers, improves the staff's appreciation of the company pension and related benefits, and allows more sympathetic manpower planning,' Gerry Purnell, general manager of the retirement council, explained.

'Employees in mid-career need to look forward to a life beyond employment that is worth planning for. If not, they are reluctant to pass on their skills and experience to younger people. If they are happy they are more sympathetic to job restructuring, new working practices and phased retirement, to the benefit of the employer. It also gives a caring image to the employer, both within the organisation and in the community, and avoids expensive individual counselling.'

Voluntary Action Leicester, tel 0533 513999; Birmingham Retirement Council, tel 021 643 1032.