Fifty-nine-year old Mandy Townsend* has two grown-up children and works as a part-time Customer Assistant in the Ladies Wear Department at M&S. Before starting her new role at M&S, she had devoted 34 years of her working life to the corporate world, working as a User Acceptance Test Analyst at a number of large UK banks.
In her final year as a self-employed Test Analyst, Mandy found herself working up to 24 hours a day in order to deliver work on time, which forced her to reevaluate what she wanted from work and life. She ended her contract early and spent the next four months searching for a renewed sense of purpose.
At the start of her corporate career in the banking world, Mandy enjoyed the challenging and complex nature of her job and the fact that there was always something new to learn. But eventually, a “lack of organisation, direction, and support within the project team” left her unsatisfied and ready for change. Mandy says “I decided that it was really not necessary to work under such conditions and with no sign of improvement in the near future, I left the role.”
Mandy thinks back to her first thoughts after leaving her job. She recalls, “It actually knocked my confidence and I initially considered retirement. However, my children reminded me that I did have skills, not only work-related, but also life skills that could be used within the workplace.
“I also realised I required interaction with others and I wasn’t ready to give up work completely! So, I applied for a role 3 days a week, where the wages would tide me over until I pay off my mortgage and start to receive my state pension. And the days off would provide me with time to undertake hobbies and daily tasks without rushing around – so more of a work/life balance.”
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Mandy is now free from the stresses and strains of her most recent IT contract and she’s adapting to an entirely new way of working at M&S. In her previous job, she was used to constant deadlines, heavy jargon, and complex reports. At present, a typical day at work for Mandy involves serving customers at the tills and fitting rooms, putting stock on the shop floor, and assisting customers with locating products and services.
The mum of two reflects on how her new job compares with her old one. She explains, “I have never previously worked in retail so the job is very different to anything I have done in the past. At M&S, I am on my feet all day (comfortable shoes are very necessary!), whereas my previous role was office-based and, therefore, I was sitting down all day.
“I now have constant direct contact with customers which I enjoy, but I am less independent than I was in my old job. The work was more varied as a Test Analyst and there was flexibility to choose how you completed the tasks. At M&S, I also have to work to specific times, whereas before I could be flexible with the day start and end times.”
But Mandy has found that working just 3 days a week, 8 hours per day, means that she no longer takes her ‘work brain’ home with her, and her outlook on life is more positive as a result. She says, “I like the direct interaction with customers, whether it be at the tills or on the shop floor finding the products or services they are looking for; ensuring they are happy with these, and knowing they have received good customer experience.
“On a personal level, I like the fact that I receive instant job satisfaction from helping customers and at the end of the shift I leave the shop floor with no further thoughts of work required until the next working day. There is no stress to take away at the end of the day. I also like that the job is local, whereas previously I was working in London.”
Mandy is still coming to terms with her newfound freedom outside work. In her previous job, finding the extra time to socialise or take time for herself was difficult, and the undue stress was making her unwell. Since starting her part-time job at M&S, Mandy’s quality of life has greatly improved and she no longer feels “consumed by work.”
She continues, “I have started to catch up on things that I never had time to do whilst working full time, like gardening, DIY, visiting friends and family, and walking on a regular basis. I also have time to look at and plan trips to places I’d like to visit, whether in the UK or abroad, and undertake leisure activities. I’ve also booked a concert for myself for the first time in forever!”
Looking back on her career, Mandy is surprised to find that the perks of her high-pressure job weren’t as gratifying as she thought. She says, “There were three things I used to tell people when asked what I liked about my job. Firstly, I got to travel but this brought a lot of extra stress. It meant being uprooted and having to concentrate in an unknown work environment whilst endless home chores were not being done.
“Secondly, I was challenged every day, but the nature of my job was so complex that family and friends didn’t have enough background information to discuss it with me. Thirdly I was independent, however, this added further responsibility, as I was able to make my own decisions but I was constantly having to engineer processes and defend strategies.”
The nature of Mandy’s new role at M&S brings a new aspect to her social life as now people understand her work and it can be a topic of discussion when meeting new people. Even after years in the same sort of role, it has taken a complete change of job to show her just how unhappy she was before. She admits, “I find that really I miss nothing from my old job, in reality, I used the buzzwords at every social engagement to promote my job, but behind the words was nothing real and the new stress-free working environment has made me realise that”.
Mandy is in no hurry to retire from her relaxed working environment, which has given her a new lease of life and a fresh perspective. She is happier and healthier now and views retirement as an option, but not a necessity to escape the burden of work.
Whatever your sense of purpose, Mandy is a great example of someone who has made a bold change in their late 50s and is reaping the benefits of her new lifestyle.
If you can relate to Mandy’s story and you’re considering a new and different part-time role, why not take a look at our popular article Top 15 part-time jobs for the over 50s? There are some interesting ideas for everyone, from tutoring and childcare, to consultancy and even starting your own business.
You can also get some inspiration by taking a look at our jobs board – which is full of opportunities with age-friendly employers.
*Name has been changed.