Legislation aimed at delaying retirement is seen as having little impact, as employees push for an early exit from the labour market while companies continue to lay off older staff.
A special session on active ageing, held in the framework of the annual Employment Week on 6 June 2007, asked whether active ageing is the only response to demographic change and whether it can work for both companies and employees.
The speakers at the session pointed out that citizens cannot be obliged to work and argued that the recently introduced national anti-age discrimination legislations will lead to phenomena of the lowest common denominator, with companies only striving to comply with law.
“Active ageing is not the only response to demographic change, but it is an important part of the response,” said Professor John Philpott, chief economist at CIPD, the professional body for those involved in the management and development of people. “And it can work for both companies and employees, if we can make the case for it,” he added.
To overcome employers’ reluctance with regards to increasing the activity rates of older people, Philpott explained: “As early retirement is still a common aspiration of workers, a strong active-ageing lobby is need to overcome this desire. In addition, not only the positive, but also the negative aspects of early retirement, such as likelihood of lower than expected income due to longer retirement periods, need to be explained to employers,” said Philpott.
He also highlighted the need to take into account and to find remedies for older workers’ often-low job satisfaction and unhappiness, caused by the necessity to work, inflexible working hours, work-related pressure or ill health. Selling the case for active ageing for employees “depends crucially upon what happens in the workplace, especially with regards to flexible working, occupational health provision and training opportunities”.
With regards employers, “companies need to overcome the myths about the employability of older people, their absence records, health, trainability and productivity”, Philpott added, for example by investing in training for older people, “in the era of faster depreciation of skills, we need to challenge the conventional view that it is ‘not worth’ investing in teaching older people new skills”. He also recommended highlighting the advantages of employing older staff in a society in which consumers are older, too.
“We definitely need to avoid the risk of companies striving only to comply with anti-age discrimination law,” concluded Philpott, warning against active-ageing policies becoming a mere ‘tick box’ exercise.