Q&A with Tanya Zubrzycki co-writer with Prof. Maria Slowey of a new report, Living Longer, Learning Longer – Working Longer? Implications for New Workforce Dynamics from the Higher Education Research Centre (HERC) at Dublin City University.
‘measuring the age profile in an organisation seems to be very important because
“what gets measured gets managed”.’
You include a question mark in the name of the report.
One of the research topics that the HERC focuses on is lifelong learning. We look at the question of working longer from a variety of different perspectives. There’s a lot of conversation now about a change in the traditional approach to life – education, working life, then retirement. Discussion now is around how lives will consist of various transitions from one thing to another including different types of work, even different arrangements for work. This will need to be supported by lifelong learning at various stages of a person’s life. The learning element is unavoidable if people want or need to work longer.
Various research also shows that it’s those individuals that are unemployed or lower skilled that experience more disadvantages throughout their lifetime because it’s harder for them to transition into something else. So public policy must step in to support those workers, in particular.
Do employers want older workers?
What we find in our research and what we try to carry across our report is that it is important to change the mindset around people working longer. It’s important to change from a focus on problems associated with longer life. Theoretically people living longer should be a good news story. But often times it’s about how we support our retired population as opposed to looking at the opportunities that are brought by people working longer. There are so many individuals who can contribute to the economy by working longer but perhaps in a different capacity.
How are employers dealing with older workers at present? What attitudes have you come across?
Unfortunately, in Ireland we don’t know too much about what employers do in terms of supporting workers, most of it is anecdotal. But we do have some international studies. Particularly useful research has come from countries such as the United States where the mandatory retirement age was abolished as well as the UK where it was abolished in 2011. We can learn from that and see what might be applicable for the Irish context.
Also, we did try to look at it from the public policy perspective because employers will need to be supported so it doesn’t fall entirely on their organisations to support longer working. Larger companies would have some advantage, and smaller companies might need additional support so that everyone can benefit.
Is this what you mean by age friendly practices and policies?
Yes, it requires an approach by employers and organisations that would embrace a variety of innovative initiatives in terms of practices and policies. Older workers do represent a big talent pool of vast experience and expertise from which employers could benefit. However, as I said earlier, the mindset would need to change. Now unfortunately, there’s a lot of misconceptions or myths about older workers. These negative perceptions about older employees may limit older individuals career promotion even training opportunities which tend to decline with age.
People who are approaching 50 do say that it isn’t easy at that age to get a ‘traditional’ job.
This has come up in our research. Age was cited by some people as limiting job prospects. So again, changing that mindset and embracing age friendly policies is important. These can and should be expressed in recruitment practices so as to make the workforce more diverse and inclusive.
Are employers really paying attention to the age of their employees?
One priority that had been repeated again and again in different studies is that measuring the age profile in an organisation seems to be very important because ‘what gets measured gets managed’. And once you know where you stand in relation to the age perspective of employees you can do certain things to make the workplace a bit more inclusive. So, measuring age profile and including age as one of the dimensions of diversity along with gender and other measures is important. But this is not really happening within a lot of companies.
Terms like FWA (flexible working arrangements) feature in the report. Do you want to say something about these terms and the idea of transition?
One important study in Ireland is TILDA, The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing which is a national representative study. The results point to people wanting to have an option to work longer if they wish. At the same time people indicate that they would like more flexible types of arrangements. People preferred a gradual option rather than fall off the cliff type in relation to retirement.
These options can involve working from home and limited working hours. Flexibility seems to be a key word and it comes to mind when we talk about transition. Transition seems to be a more appropriate word because this really shows this gradual change that people go through. People live longer, they experience more things in their life, they learn more things in their life. They may want to try different types of work, for example, they might wish to freelance or transition to new work altogether.
There are specific issues around women and retirement age: pension arrangements and caring for children or older relatives.
Longer working will affect certain groups more than others in terms of disadvantaging them. So, for carers of all genders, it’s has been shown that it’s harder for people who provide full time care to integrate back into the workforce. And because statistically, there are more women who are providing full time care or a significant number of hours per week, this is a disadvantage. And then again there is the earnings gap and the pension gap. Women who take some time off during their career for caring responsibilities whether it’s a family member or children, usually means their pension arrangements are affected.
If you would like to read the full report, please go to HERC in Dublin City University where more information about this and other projects can be found: https://www.dcu.ie/herc/projects.shtml
Interview by Maretta Dillon