“It was really shocking how many people who, when they retired, died within the year or seriously deteriorated”. Christine Critchley, Principle Consultant at a leading Health and Safety company, shares her views on why experiences when she was younger, have made her determined to keep on working. And, with over 40 years of work in Health and Safety — Christine was right there at the very start of the industry — her knowledge and lifetime of experience is unparalleled.

Very few of my regular clients know how old I am. They obviously appreciate that I am over 60 but I think that it is a good idea that they don’t know I am 76. Then they won’t have the idea that I am going to keel over in the middle of what I am doing for them.

I work with lots of young people. This is a good thing. The idea of being pocketed into an age stereotype is just wrong. I find it so insulting when people use the phrase ‘dear’. If you are going to get people who treat you differently, which is pretty stupid at the best of times, then dear is just rude. Then other day I was waiting for a meeting and the receptionist says to me, ‘would you like to come this way dear’ and said the lift is here. I turned to her and said I will use the stairs, the meeting is only on the second floor. She didn't say anything but she looked absolutely astounded that I was happy to walk up two sets of stairs.

I do find it extraordinary that my wealth of experience can just be dismissed in favour of a stereotypical and incorrect image of me sitting in front of the fire knitting. I am lucky that I don’t work for a company that doesn’t feel like this but there is a tendency to dismiss people because of their age.

"I do find it extraordinary that my wealth of experience can just be dismissed in favour of a stereotypical and incorrect image of me sitting in front of the fire knitting."

Christine Critchley.

Christine winning her lifetime achievement award.

The other day I was asked at a conference by someone how long had I been working. When I said that I had been working for over 40 years, his initial response was one of surprise and shock. But once he had gathered his composure, he turned to me and said, ‘I want to talk to you’. He came to find me at the lunch break and said you must have the most extraordinary amount of experience. He saw this as priceless. He was really interested in the knowledge I had gained from my long career. We were talking about robotics in warehousing and I was able to tell him about some of the UK’s original robotics from the Freeman catalogue warehouse from over 30 years ago.

I really think that it is my years of experience that has given me the confidence to do so much public speaking and public courses. I don’t worry if someone throws me a curve ball of a question. The other day I was asked a question about school. I didn't know but I had the confidence to say that but I will find out for you. You have to have the courage to say you don’t know.

I think it has been a big mistake for so many organisations to get rid of the wealth of experience by encouraging early retirement packages. I have heard of so many of my friends who have taken the package only for the organisations to get back to them weeks after, desperate for them to return in some capacity. Businesses don’t think it through. They just think they need to cut numbers and save money. It is so shortsighted.

"I think it has been a big mistake for so many organisations to get rid of the wealth of experience by encouraging early retirement packages. Businesses don’t think it through. They just think they need to cut numbers and save money. It is so shortsighted."

Christine Critchley.

Christine winning awards in 2002.

The best thing about still working is that it keeps my young. I need to as I am a spend thrift! I also think you learn more about the real world by being in it. You hear about people’s problems and the things that happen everyday. And as horrible as the tube is, you get to find out what is happening around you. You see what is going on.

The reason to get up is one of the most important reasons why I work. I have friends who have given up work but I don’t know one who hasn’t deteriorated, seriously not one. I think a lot of people lose the discipline of getting up and then they start to not go out in the evening. They start to narrow down their life. If you have a very full life of grandchildren and you and your other half have the money to go on lots of holidays, then you have something to do, but an awful lot of people don’t. And of course, we all have those moments when the alarm goes off on a Monday morning, and think, how wonderful not to work. But after a month of not working? I’m not sure. I have friends who I daren’t ask if they are unwell — they look terrible — they have lost their reason for being.

I probably won’t ever stop working. I will always do something. You can’t just sit. You can’t let your brain go. When I was at Freemans I always remember a moment when they announced they were going to do some retirements. There was a wonderful older woman who came in with tears, saying I don’t want to retire, ‘I can still touch my toes she said’. And boy, she could. She was 88. She died 3 months later. But it wasn't just her. There was an awful lot of them. And maybe it was there that I learnt the lessons about not stopping working. It was really shocking how many people who when they retired died within the year or deteriorated.

"And maybe it was there that I learnt the lessons about not stopping working. It was really shocking how many people who when they retired died within the year or deteriorated."

Christine Critchley.

The government should stop talking about retirement with a top age on it. Perhaps we should be talking more about how we could adapt the workplace for a much longer working life.. With my health and safety hat on, if we thought about it, stopping discriminating against older people would make life better for everyone.

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