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When is it time to call it a day? Even for Serena Williams, the options can be limited | Yvonne Roberts

June Spencer, aged 103 – an outstanding example of being as young as they think they are, as columnist Katharine Whitehorn once put it – has decided that, after 70 years as the tireless matriarch, Peggy Woolley, it is time to retire from BBC Radio Four’s Archer. “In 1950, I helped plant seeds … called Archer,” he explained. “Over the years it has grown and become a big beautiful tree with many branches. But now this old branch, known as Peggy, had become weak and insecure, so I decided it was time for her to ‘destroy’ it, so I have cut it properly.”

Also last week came the announcement of the departure of tennis queen of over 20 years, Serena Williams. In a Mode interview, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, now 40 years old, announced: “I’ve progressed away from tennis… I’m ready for what’s next.” The reason for retiring from sports in her case will not surprise many women: that is, you can’t have it all. At least, not on the terms currently offered.

Williams explained in the magazine’s September issue that she never wanted to choose between tennis and family, but she was expecting a second child. “I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a man… I would play and win out there, while my wife would do physical work to expand our family.” Mother of five-year-old Olympia said: “I definitely don’t want to get pregnant again as an athlete.”

Once, not too long ago, an employee worked 30 or 40 years at the same job and retired with hours, only to be pegged a few years later. Work-life balance and raising a family is part of the invisible world where most entrepreneurs have little interest and almost no investment.

For decades, women have lobbied for more flexibility in the workplace, three days a week with no career loss and almost nothing has changed. Family commitments and huge childcare costs mean that, for many, early “retirement” is not an option but a compulsion. Then came Covid-19.

Working from home is becoming commonplace, “lost” hours of return journeys are found, thousands of employees are tasting a semi-liberalized form of the rat race and the result is that, as long as the work ethic is alive, it turns out to be far from good. . Last week, Dame Sharon White, chairman of John Lewis, appealed to the one million people, mostly aged between 50 and 70, who left paid jobs during the pandemic to return to the labor market. He said that many of those leaving work could have “profound long-term systemic implications”, resulting in lower productivity and growth rates. Of course, economic hardship may force some to back down – but in the social contract between employer and boss a lot goes wrong, so why don’t many choose to call it an all-too-frequent workday when it brings so little in return?

A recent PCS union survey of 12,000 civil servants notably found that 40% had to take out a loan or credit to pay for essential expenses, 9% claimed benefits to supplement their income and 14% had taken second and third jobs to do. end of the meeting. In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that a 15-hour work week would be possible in the 21st century with increased productivity and technology. On the other hand, for many, the work week has grown longer, the outlook is insecure, the career/job change is often hopeful and wages have been flat for years as inflation and energy bills soar. Against that backdrop, some have early retirement forced on them by redundancy, illness or family commitments, while for others it’s not an option as a direct trade-off: living a more frugal life but for a few years longer.

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

The impact of Covid on employment practices means that, despite demands by some politicians and economists to postpone the official retirement age to 67 and above, for many, when to opt out is increasingly a personal decision. For the June Spencers of this world, who are able to control their hours, love what they do, retirement may never be an option. Others may feel unable to give up the identity and status they believe their jobs provide – but what about those in “dirty” or distressing jobs, shifts at abattoirs or construction sites or too much hospital A&E? And if the 75-year-old sits quietly at his desk, does that stop a man in his twenties from finding work?

In Time on Our Side: Why We All Need A Shorter Work Week, published in 2013, various voices made the social justice argument for all those who work less (30 hours for four days) at a decent wage, creating a new consensus on what constitutes a “good life”. Post-Covid, sadly, it still seems like a dream.

The agenda for persuading men and women to work longer hours if that’s what the economy and White needs isn’t complicated. Affordable, subsidized childcare, reasonable working hours, fair pay, flexibility, on-the-job skills training and respect are clear requirements. The Social Market Foundation, a thinktank, recently published a report on the working poor in London. All participants said that businesses need to be “more understanding, caring and proactive”. Or, to put it simply, treat an employee like a human with the world outside the workplace and he or she may be willing to stay on track a little longer.

Yvonne Roberts is a freelance journalist, writer and broadcaster

When is it time to call it a day? Even for Serena Williams, the options can be limited | Yvonne Roberts

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