The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Social Conditions (“Eurofound”) has released a study showing the effects on older workers of the economic crisis that began in 2008. It is available here.
It found that, on the whole, the economic crisis did not have a negative impact on older workers. In fact, the majority of EU member states that were studied showed increased rates of employment for older workers.
A general finding of the study was that member states’ policy has moved away from encouraging early retirement in the pre-crisis period and instead emphasised various forms of downshifting such as reducing working hours and gradual/phased retirement.
The study noted a wide variation in the extent to which member state implemented policies specifically targeting older workers. These include indirect measures such as:
- Pension system reform
- Raising the statutory pension age (and, in the case of Sweden, linking it to life expectancy)
- Reducing incentives for early retirement (although it was promoted as an alternative to making redundancies)
- Sickness/disability benefit reform
- Anti-discrimination policy
- Incentives to promote lifelong learning
Other policies that have been implemented with a more direct age management focus include
- Financial incentives to employers to keep older aged workers in retirement
- Financial incentives to employers to assist the re-entry of older workers into the workforce
- Financial incentives to employees to stay in employment longer
- Gradual/phased/partial retirement schemes
- Flexible working for older people
- Awareness campaigns to promote a chance of attitude towards older workers
Company level policies
The study also reveals some of the strategies adopted at the company level when dealing with an ageing workforce. There are a few main themes arising out of their case studies. These are:
Skills development and knowledge transfer – Barco (Belgium), Abengoa (Spain), KPN and DHV (Netherlands) and MOL Group (Hungary) have employability programs which are aimed at the whole workforce, but which are of particular importance for older workers, whilst others place importance on intergenerational knowledge transfer. For example both MOL Group (Hungary) and Kiruna Regional Administration (Sweden) have policies relating to succession planning, using older workers as training mentors (as training budgets were reduced) and recording the knowledge accumulated by older workers.
Flexible working – KPN and DHV (both Netherlands) offer flexible working to all employees. This encourages older workers to stay in employment and transition into retirement as and when it suits them. Both Cambridgeshire County Council (UK) and Ford (Spain) operate similar schemes.
Small companies – the loss of an older employee is felt to a much greater degree in a small employer as the skill and knowledge that they have built up is difficult to replace. The case studies suggest that because of this, employers are more willing to tailor work to personal circumstances.
As stated above, the Eurofound study found that the economic crisis that began in 2008 did not have an adverse effect on the employment of older people. Employment rates for older people increased but decreased for all other age groups. BT (UK) even saw their proportion of older people in their workforce rise.
Where member states have driven forward age-related policy reform, this was seldom for age management reasons but as part of a cost cutting regime.