The Countdown to Retirement
“Just two years and three months to go.” That’s the sort of remark I often hear whilst out and about on my chaplaincy visits. People are counting down the years to their retirement. It is especially so in the public sector where longer serving employees still have the prospect of a good pension.
Some people count away the months looking optimistically forward to being able to pursue their hobby, to travel, or to commit to voluntary work in their community. Others sadly express a sense of disillusionment about the work they are doing, and the way it has changed over the years.
Many of them have long years of service and have developed a career. Decades before, they embarked on their work with a sense of vision, a hope that they could serve their communities, develop a good idea, enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow workers and provide for their families. These long serving employees have valuable experience to pass on to newer workers. They have knowledge about how tasks can be well done. They have built networks of relationships which a good business can use. They have achieved things and gained the respect of those around them.
What has happened?
In the public sector, the remorseless drive for “austerity” has meant that fewer people have been asked to do more. Friendships built in the workplace have been broken up as people have left. The message which is communicated as jobs are discontinued is that they actually didn’t have much value anyway. The people who are left wonder who will be next. In manufacturing similar pressures apply, with efficiency taking the pace of austerity and automation always looming, posing a constant threat to jobs, especially for those without high skill levels.
What can be done?
Active Christian disciples in the workplace, whether employees or chaplains, have the opportunity to encourage those around them. When the Bible speaks about people being “salt and light” anywhere, it refers to the difference people can make. If we realise that good work is part of God’s purpose for us as human beings created in his image, we will look for and affirm people doing things well, creating things and making a difference to other people’s lives.
In one of my chaplaincies, I visit a workshop from which a group of skilled people keep a factory’s machinery going. With some old installations, this is a constant challenge, but time and time again they contrive to use the parts on their racks to come up with a solution. Their inventiveness is something to be celebrated.
We will also recognise the long years of service which people have contributed to an organization. Chaplains have opportunities to speak directly and positively about this in a way which colleagues may not, often because it is taken for granted.
At another level, austerity itself needs to be challenged. As Simon Barrow points out in his introduction to the Ekklesia Lent book, “Feast or Famine”, austerity is a choice. Many economists are agreed that it is a bad choice economically, as public spending contributes to a multiplier effect which grows an economy. National economies are not like households where you can only spend according to your income.
But it is also a bad choice socially, where people are being left disillusioned or insecure and counting the days until they retire. It is a good principle of economics that people should never be treated as a means to an end. It is a principle that Christians, recognising people as made in the image of God, would affirm. It is a principle that says that, however long we have worked, and however long we have left to work, we have value, and something important to contribute.