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Published: 1 Mar 2018

Older workers and active ageing: the benefits of working on

Professor Patricia Leighton (nearly 75)
Professor of University of South Wales, Visiting Professor at Trent University and University of Brussels, works with the World Employers’ Federation, OECD and the EU.

‘The thing that keeps me young is my work – I’m not a health fanatic. Most of my friends are younger than me, some by three or four decades. Others assume that you become more conservative and less engaged as you get older. I feel the opposite. I feel passionately about many issues – I still go on marches and campaign for change.
I’m a lawyer by background but I never liked the law because I find it protectionist and negative. What it gave me, though, was a set of tools and skills – thinking logically and analytically for example – which I’ve put to use elsewhere. I can use it as a tool to overcome prejudices and physical barriers for instance, but you also need creativity to be able to do that and, for me, the law stifled that.
I worked in education full time specialising in Employment Law until I was 40 and then decided to work for myself. I continue to work extensively in Europe, particularly Paris and Nice at a private business school and Malta, and have been able to work on some of my passions such as self-employment. Self employment is still seen as marginal by government and the world of business and I’ve done a lot of research in this area to try to bring about change, particularly with the new gig economy and the likes of Uber appearing on the scene. I produced the first independent report on self employment for the EU x years ago. I would say that education is a sector where age and experience is respected and it is easier to remain working as long as you are producing relevant work.
I also consider myself to be a student still – I make notes and sit at the feet of leaders! I have a big thirst for knowledge and to keep on learning. I’m currently researching and writing a book on employment law and the future, Into the Void. I’m still an activist at heart and I’m driven by my wish to improve things and leave a footprint for future generations.
I’ve worked flexibly (for myself) for decades now. These days my work life balance is reasonable – when I was younger I was more of a workaholic. I’m much better at thinking ahead and planning my work and life; I’m more cautious about what I plan socially and workwise, as well as family-wise. I have a big family – children and grandchildren and plenty of friends. I also recognise I need to cut a little slack more into my schedule.
There are so many benefits to being an older worker in the workplace: your sense of perspective is better – I sometimes see 20 and 30-year olds at work who look continually terrified. As an older worker you recognise that you cannot do it all, that you can fail sometimes and there is the pleasure of passing on your experience to different generations and receiving their appreciation. I’m clear that what I take on these days, I want to do well and I still get real pleasure from new ideas and others’ views. That’s why working with younger generations is so good.
My advice to other older workers is keep on learning and listening to other points of view. Remember how much you have to offer and don’t be frightened to talk about it, keep your self-belief strong! ‘