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Increasing longevity and the strain on state and occupational pensions have brought into question long-held assumptions about the age of retirement, and raised the prospect of a workplace populated by ageing workers. In the United Kingdom the default retirement age has gone, incremental increases in state pension age are being implemented and ageism has been added to workplace anti-discrimination laws. These changes are yet to bring about the anticipated transformation in workplace demographics, but it is coming, making it timely to ask if the workplace is ready for the ageing worker and how the extension of working life will be managed. We report findings from qualitative case studies of five large organisations located in the United Kingdom. Interviews and focus groups were conducted with employees, line managers, occupational health staff and human resources managers. Our findings reveal a high degree of uncertainty and ambivalence among workers and managers regarding the desirability and feasibility of extending working life; wide variations in how older workers are managed within workplaces; a gap between policies and practices; and evidence that while casualisation might be experienced negatively by younger workers, it may be viewed positively by financially secure older workers seeking flexibility. We conclude with a discussion of the challenges facing employers and policy makers in making the modern workplace fit for the ageing worker.
Research on older workers and retirement has yet to adjust fully to an environment influenced by a combination of demographic change, technological developments and economic recession. A key dimension to the changing relationship between ageing and work is the tension between policies to extend working life and the increasingly fragmented nature of late working life, with the emergence of varied transitions, including: bridge employment, second/third careers, part-time working, early retirement and other variations. These developments indicate both the challenge of conceptualising new forms of work-ending, and – in policy terms – the extent to which these can successfully accommodate longer working lives. The paper provides a critical perspective to the policy of extending working life and the narrative which underpins this approach. The paper argues that retirement has become a ‘contested’ institution in the 21st century, fragmented across different pathways and transitions affecting people in their fifties and sixties. The paper argues the case for improving work quality and security as a precondition for supporting policies for encouraging working in later life. An essential requirement for this will include linking debates on extending working life with technological developments and changes affecting the workplace, creating differentiated paths to retirement and labour force exit, enhancing the provision of training and continuing education, and re-thinking the idea of the ‘older worker’.
Little is known about the perspectives of health-care workers when it comes to prolonging their working lives. This exploratory paper focuses on physiotherapists and aims to offer new insights into the underlying processes that may influence perceptions of ageing and how they impact on motivation to work longer. Data gathering took the form of focus groups with 43 National Health Service physiotherapists. A thematic analysis was used to characterise and articulate key concepts and meanings. The analysis applied interpretive techniques. The six headline themes to emerge were: worry over physical capability and ability to cope; the need to maintain a professional image; work, retirement and exit norms; beliefs about ageing; extrinsic job demands; organisational support – line management; and organisational support – career progression. The key findings suggest that the current unchanging context of high job demands is very salient, consequently resulting in negative and pessimistic feelings about capabilities when it comes to being an older worker and having an extended working life.
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