Sustaining an Aging Workforce

Posted Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013  | Comments (2) rule
Trends in labor demographics in Europe vary widely from one country to another
Annet de Lange, PhD
Associate Professor
Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Head of Dutch Center of Sustainable Work Participation of Ageing Workers

The European Union reports increasing rates of participation in the labor force by people between the ages of 55 and 64. Given the advancing median age of the European population, this trend is welcome. It is not yet time to pop the champagne bottle, though, because among the 27 members of the European Union, the workforce participation rates of older people vary significantly (see Figure 1). In Sweden, for example, participation by those who are 55 to 64 years old is relatively high and trending up: rising from 67.3 percent in 1992 to 72.3 percent in 2011. In Belgium, participation by this age group is on an upswing, too, but the benchmarks are low: from 22.2 percent in 1992 to 38.7 percent in 2011.

Notwithstanding the progress of European countries generally in enabling aging workers to stay active in the labor force, some countries face serious challenges. These have repercussions for the European Union as a whole, compromising its economic prowess. As Figure 1 shows, 47.4 percent of the European Union population between the ages of 55 and 64 are working, but this means that 52.6 percent are not—a serious loss of human capital.

Fig 1: Percentages of people between the ages of 55 and 64 participating in the European workforce, from 1992 to 2011 (Eurostat, 2012)*.

The Dutch example

Finding sustainable ways to retain older people in the workforce is drawing increasing attention across Europe. My country—the Netherlands—has responded with changes in law and policy. For example, the official retirement age—now 65—will rise gradually to 66 by 2019. New financial incentives have been adopted, as well. For example, an employer who hires someone who is 50 or older receives a €7,000 government bonus. A major topic of political conversation centers on who is ultimately responsible for sustaining the capacity of older workers to stay in their jobs: the employer or the individual worker?

In research to be published in The Netherlands later this year (De Lange, Schalk, Van der Heijden, 2013), we discuss negative “push” factors that make it hard for aging workers to stay in their jobs. Figure 2 shows that the push factors operate on multiple levels: individual; job; organization; macroeconomic. One may therefore argue that responsibility for sustaining the capacity of older people to keep working belongs at all of these levels, and primarily with the individual worker, his or her employer, the organization, and the national government.

Sustaining an older workforce in a global economy requires crossing international borders of knowledge. The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College understands this need, and has invited international research fellows to connect with researchers in the United States to examine topics on aging in the workplace. For example, the Sloan Center and other partners have started collaborating with researchers from the Behavioural Science Institute of Radboud University Nijmegen, who have organized a Dutch knowledge platform on sustainable systems of support for aging workers ( The platform connects government agencies, companies, universities, and unions for online exchanges of relevant information on best practices and evidence-based interventions.

The Web site ( is in Dutch, but translation software is readily available in English. Later this year the site will be updated with links to material in English as well as Dutch. I invite you to visit and share your ideas on sustaining the older workforces on both sides of the Atlantic!

Figure 2: Negative “push” factors that make it hard for aging workers to stay in their jobs.


*The employment rate of older workers was calculated by dividing the number of employed people between the ages of 55 and 64 by the total population of the same age. The percentages were derived from the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU LFS), which covers the entire population living in private households. It excludes people living in collective households (boarding houses, halls, hospitals). The employed population consists of those who, during the reference week for an hour at least, did any paid work or who had jobs from which they were temporarily absent.

Comments (2) for "Sustaining an Aging Workforce"

Workplaces for the Ages

Posted Wednesday, January 9th, 2013  | Comments (7) rule
Here’s to a clearer picture of an age-friendly company
Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, PhD
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Phone: 617.552.4033

Since 2005, when the oldest Baby Boomers turned 60, business leaders have been having interesting conversations about how to leverage the talent of today’s multigenerational workforce. In the course of these conversations, many business leaders say they want their organizations to become more “age-friendly.” However, when they attempt to describe how their newly age-friendly organizations will look, the picture is often fuzzy.

Let’s ring in the new year with some clarity about what it means for a company to be age-friendly and how best to get there. A good place to start is with the following three strategies:

  1. Age-specific. The needs and priorities of employees vary with age, generation, life stage, and career stage. Companies can develop resources or programs to suit. For example, employees who are middle-aged and older may be caring for family members who have Alzheimer’s disease. Organizing brown-bag lunches where these employees can share information and support one another could be an appropriate corporate service.
  2. Age-neutral. A number of employee supports are appropriate across age groups. For instance, employees of virtually all ages and career stages want access to flexible work options. Their reasons may vary with age, however (just as people have a variety of reasons for needing sidewalk ramps).
  3. Valuing age diversity. Recognizing that work groups are likely to include people of various ages, employers may take steps to ensure that age diversity within the work culture is viewed as an asset. Posting features about employees of different ages on an internal company Web site can break down stereotypes and promote constructive business interactions.

It’s up to employers to decide which strategies fit their organizations best. Employers should then design programs and policies to affirm (or make more visible) their commitment to an age-friendly workplace. One example is a bidirectional mentoring program, in which junior and senior employees are equally likely to serve as mentors. Another example is a creative approach to phased retirement.

Now that we have sketched a roadmap to an age-friendly workplace, we can envision the destination. What do we want to see if our workplaces become age-friendly? What will such workplaces look like?

The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College promotes the quality of employment for people of all ages, across their careers. We also pay attention to the interaction between people’s experience of work and the quality of their lives at home. Thus we want to help employers create and sustain workplaces that offer:

  • fair compensation and benefits (to employees of all ages and specifically for employees at different ages)
  • meaningful work assignments (to employees of all ages and all career stages)
  • constructive relationships (with people of all ages)
  • choices that create flexibility in the time and place of work (for employees of all ages and at all life stages)
  • a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture (for employees of all ages and all generations)
  • appropriate opportunities for learning and career development (to employees at all career stages)
  • support for health and wellness (for employees of all ages)
  • resources that enhance engagement in work (for employees at all ages and career stages)

Does this picture match the destination you have in mind for your organization?

Comments (7) for "Workplaces for the Ages"

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