EUROPEAN PAPERS ON THE NEW WELFARE

Company Measures for Retention and Reintegration of Workers at Risk of Exclusion: European Experience with Older Workers

3. The Foundation’s Specific Contributions to the Debate

In support of these policy developments, the European Foundation has devoted its own resources and efforts to these issues over the past ten years. In summary, these have included:
• 1996-97: Age barriers in employment
• 1997-98: Case studies of ergonomic measures
• 2001-02: Survey on working conditions
• 2004-05: Employment initiatives for an ageing workforce (Emphasis on ‘good practice’ in EU15 and NMS)
• 2006-ongoing: Establishment and constant updating of Database of good practice,
Report on developments over last decade
Guide to age management
The first research on ‘good practice’ in age management took place in the mid-1990s. A decade later the Foundation organised a follow-up study in the same companies to see what had happened to their ‘good practice’ in the intervening 10 years. The database of age management on the Foundation’s website (www.eurofound.europa.eu) documents current practices in these companies as well as from 100 more companies, covering all 27 Member States. The follow-up covers more than 100 organisations that had begun to develop positive measures for attracting and retaining older workers. Some of the main characteristics of these case examples are:
• Three-quarters of these were in the private sector,
• Two-thirds had more than 500 employees,
• 25% had between 100 and 499 employees,
• 10% had around 100 employees.
The business case for companies to introduce ‘active ageing’ policies.
A market/business case can be made for companies to introduce ‘active ageing’ policies and measures. They will:
• Avoid labour and skills scarcity (and associated costs),
• Retain valuable experience,
• Provide good return on investment in training,
• Improve work satisfaction contributing to greater quality and productivity.
The concern about emerging labour shortages and premature loss of experienced, knowledgeable and skilled workers should indeed be a powerful incentive for companies to develop and employ ‘active ageing’ policies and practices for their workforces. A good case has been made in banking and retail, where a growing number of ageing customers feels more comfortable with and starts demanding ‘older’ service/sales personnel, i.e. service/sales personnel closer in age to the customers on the assumption that they understand the needs and wishes of the customer better than younger personnel.
In short, age diversity in companies equates to greater flexibility and synergy. Despite these potential business benefits, momentum for change exists only in a minority of companies.
A number of good practices in age management have been identified through the Foundation’s work. ‘Active ageing’ policies will bring benefits for workers and companies if one or more of these measures are deployed:
• Job recruitment without (hidden) age discrimination.
• Training, development and lifelong learning.
• Career development.
• Flexible working practices in terms of work organisation and working time arrangements.
• Health protection and promotion.
• Workplace design.
• Redeployment — internal mobility.
• Employment exit and transition to retirement.
Needless to say, optimal effect can be achieved through a comprehensive approach and through a combination of several or all of the above measures.
Despite these insights, contradictions, ambivalences, and ambiguities are more characteristic of reality at company level than this comprehensive approach.
During the proceedings of a conference organized by Business Europe in March 2007, it was estimated that only 6% of member organisations were actively preparing for demographic change. What are the potential pitfalls?
• Even if measures were taken in combination, they were not necessarily integrated.
• Measures were taken at some times but not others.
• Measures were taken for some groups but not others.
Despite of this less than perfect reality, it has to be acknowledged that there is evidence of positive development in measures over the last decade:
• Most common measures are in training and development followed by flexible working
• Increase over time in the diversity and complexity of approaches to age management
• Tendency for measures to promote health and well-being to be reported more, and specific measures for recruitment or redeployment less
• Targeting of skilled manual workers still prominent but more attention to professional and managerial staff — and more attention to all age groups
• Little specific attention to low-skilled, or to gender issues
There is also new emphasis and increasing attention to issues of work-life balance for older workers (who often have care responsibilities) and increasing attention to maintaining workers health. However, the most common measures are still in training.

4. The Case for Looking at Staff and the Company Simultaneously

Many benefits of effective age management have been documented and reported. They include for staff:
• improved health;
• increased motivation
• increased job satisfaction;
• better relations with co-workers and managers;
• improved prospects for both employment and retirement;
whereas for the organisation, these benefits have manifested themselves:
• securing good-quality of labour supply;
• reduced loss or absence of staff;
• improved team-working and productivity;
• better image;
• strengthened social dialogue
It must be stressed, however, that these insights are based on very few systematic evaluations.The major evidence is contained in the case studies the Foundation has undertaken over the years, and is based on the opinions of management and workers, in so far as representatives of both could be interviewed for the case studies.
There is an urgent need to make more companies aware of these experiences and the benefits of age management (as also for active disability management), if it is the intention to make good ‘active ageing’ measures the norm rather than a minority phenomenon.

5. Conclusions

• Comprehensive and coordinated approaches are possible and worthwhile —
• need to extend awareness, commitment and implementation
• counter discrimination
• Policies must consider the whole of working life —
• working
• learning
• caring over the life course
• While the focus should be on prevention, some older workers need compensatory remedial provision e.g. life-long-learning (LLL) and assistance to increase their employability.
• Rethinking of pensions is going on – but will have to include disability and rehabilitation schemes.
Although key problems and barriers remain, such as indifference, or often negative attitudes to older workers, or even among older workers themselves, among workmates, line managers and employers, there is evidence that a more holistic thinking is gaining ground which will integrate different measures for different people, for different times in their (working) lives, for different companies.


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