Employers’ attitudes and actions toward extending working lives in eight European countries

Wieteke Conen, Utrecht University
Kène Henkens, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI)
Joop Schippers, Utrecht University

This paper addresses employers attitudes and actions towards extending working lives in eight European countries. We analyze surveys administered in 2009 to employers in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the UK. The paper addresses three main questions: 1) What do employers see as possible consequences of an ageing workforce for their own organisation? 2) What attitudes and actions toward extending working lives are reflected in employers’ norms on retirement age and organisational policies? and 3) According to employers, what can governments do to extend working lives? The results show that many employers acknowledge the increase in know-how which firms will enjoy when their personnel ages. However, the increase in know-how apparently does not translate into higher productivity, as most employers do not associate an ageing staff with a higher productivity level. Moreover, in all countries potential increases in productivity do not outpace expected increases in labour costs. In general, most employers use flexible working hours as a measure to retain older workers. Employers perceive incentives to combine work and retirement as an effective measure for governments to extend working lives. We conclude that employers are divided in their attitudes and actions to extend working lives. In general, attitudes and actions toward older workers and retirement seem to indicate a preference for ‘gradual’ retirement. On average, employers think that at age 67 a person is too old to work more than 20 hours a week, which is well above the average retirement and even above the statutory retirement age in all countries included. It seems that as far as employers are concerned, there is room to raise retirement ages, although this may be rather on a part-time than on a fulltime basis.

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Presented in Session 36: Work and retirement: strategies in later life