The Silver Workers Institute: Active Retirees in Germany

This part of our publication presents texts which are not original. They are motivated and written under various contexts: they provide an insight on the fact that the lenghtening of the life cycle is of greater and greater concern and interest in many different directions. The counter-ageing society is an issue which needs to be perceived on the basis of a true, practical as well as theoretical, multidisciplinary approach. On the basis of this larger vision, the work, activity and research of any specialist can be better appreciated and given value within the framework of a global background of reference.

1. First Empirical Survey Reveals Large Idle Potential for Economy and Society

A recently completed research project from Leuphana University Lueneburg and The Geneva Association, ‘think tank’ of the world leading insurance companies, gives a first empirical insight into the present situation and concrete expectations of paid and voluntarily active retirees (Silver Workers) in Germany.
Research results are based on an extensive survey of approx. 150 active retirees ranging in age from 60 to 85 years. Study participants vary from former board member to former chambermaid. The study highlights crucial conditions for the increased mobilization of this relatively small section of the population of which we know very little. For this reason the study sheds light on the workplace of tomorrow, which makes early allowances for the huge economic and socio-political challenges of the demographic change.
Professor Jürgen Deller, head of the research project, comments: “We broke new ground doing this first empirical study of Silver Workers’ situation. Further research will and has to follow. Our results should encourage a goal-directed redesign of tomorrow’s age-based labor world. We think that this will be one of the crucial challenges for economy, politics and society. Leadership and Human Resources Management will change substantially”.
Patrick M. Liedtke, Secretary General and Managing Director of The Geneva Association, adds: “A better integration of Silver Workers in the working life is much more than just a question of old-age provisions. It’s a matter of substantial questions concerning companies’ competitiveness, stability of national budgets and societal exposure to a dramatically changing age structure of the population. Ultimately, the study at hand addresses the long-term basics of growth and welfare in a leading world economy”.

2. Covering Macroeconomic Growth Potential and Relieving Old-age Pension Systems by Integrating Silver Workers

As a result of the demographic development, there is an increasing understanding of the lack of sustainability of existing pension schemes. Moreover, agencies are forecasting an intensified lack of specialized staff which will noticeably affect the growth of the German economy in the foreseeable future.
As people who are getting older maintain good mental and physical abilities, they decide, in increasing numbers to stay active in retirement and to actively pursue a job. The study shows that currently non-financial motives like seeking appreciation determine retirees’ activities. Due to foreseeable deficits of the existing pension funds, post-retirement activities could become a necessity for an increasing number of older employees.
Against this background, the present study draws a first empirical picture of the current situation and most important expectations of Silver Workers. Its aim is to give an impetus to the creation of a fourth pillar of old-age pension which is based on a combination of part-time work and old-age pension during transition to retirement. Besides the statutory, occupational and private pension scheme, the fourth pillar can contribute to the stabilization of pension systems and therefore of national budgets as well as ensure human capital.

3. Maintaining Competitiveness of the German Economy by Integrating Silver Workers

The impact of a strong fourth pillar goes much beyond relieving old-age pension systems and covering macroeconomic growth potential. German companies have to face up to the demographic change, irrespective of their size. This is also true for many other European countries, e.g. Italy. Those companies that set the course today for reasonable employment of older specialized staff will gain a key advantage in national and international competition tomorrow. They will benefit in the short term in view of a prevalent lack of specialized staff due to a booming economic situation in Germany.
This study provides an informative basis for companies regarding the design of tomorrow’s workforce which we think will become one of the most central leadership tasks. The willingness to start or to continue working in retirement in Germany exists — but companies have to provide adequate general conditions in order to benefit from the experience, expertise and social competences of active retirees: once they have gained a degree of freedom Silver Workers do not want to live without it. Occupation in retirement has to be varied in shape and form and provide meaning to Silver Workers’ life. Concretely, flexible measures which are adapted to a retiree’s individual needs, e.g. part-time work, have to be set up. Furthermore projects and tasks have to be structured in such a way as to accommodate the Silver Worker’s desire for independence and performance in his or her job. Moreover, to have a shot a the future, companies will have to train and provide new skills in order to efficiently employ older workers even after they have retired. The active retirees who were interviewed mentioned these elements and underlined that they are prepared and actually calling for this challenge.
Interviewees also point out their need to be appreciated and valued. The importance of an additional income in some cases seems to serve as evidence for this expressed appreciation. The results repeatedly accentuate the need for a culture of appreciation as a condition for an organizational integration of active retirees.
The following figure gives an overview of the most important expectations Silver Workers have of their employers.

Figure 1: Ideal contitions for an occupation during retirement from Silver Workers’ position
4. Silver Workers as Sociopolitical Challenge

In Germany, Silver Workers still live a shadow existence compared to those in other countries. One decisive reason for this might be that for most German retirees an additional income is not absolutely necessary as the pension scheme is still basically working. But demographic and political developments indicate a different trend for the future where rethinking will be necessary from everyone.
At the moment, most of the interviewees are basically working because they simply like doing it. In the foreseeable future the general framework of old-age pension could change in such a way that income additional to old-age pension will be necessary for an increasing number of people. This will also require more flexibility from the persons concerned. It will be essential to retrain retirees in order to reemploy them, especially lower skilled staff.
A further reason for the still low impact of Silver Workers in Germany is the political framework. An extended working life is not covered in the law and is hindered for certain groups, e.g. civil servants. Employers and Employees still have to pay social security provisions which do not have a positive effect on the annuity rates but rather have a negative effect on the employee’s salary. The inescapable transition to these new working conditions is constrained by the current legal framework in Germany, which has to be extensively reformed.
Finally there is a lack of social acceptance of the mains reasons why Silver Workers want to keep on working, namely the desire to be accepted and to continue to play a continuing active role in the economy and society.

5. Recommended Actions for the Economy, Politics and Society

The following three central recommendations can be derived as a first empirical appraisal of the situation of the Silver Workers:
1. Enlargement of strategic HR management in order to systematically mobilize and integrate Silver Workers: We need flexible structures regarding working time and work design, supplemented by purposive advanced training measures in order to provide an attractive organizational environment for Silver Workers.
2. Promotion of a culture of appreciation for the elderly throughout organizations: The prevalent ‘mania for youth’ is reaching its limits — and not only because of the forecasted changes in the structure of the population. There seems to be a return to the recognition of the elderly’s longtime experience, substantial expertise and superior social competencies. These values have to be firmly positioned in the culture of an organization.
3. Establishment of an attractive legal framework for Silver Workers: The present regulatory vacuum has to be replaced by definite terms which put post-retirement work on a mandatory legal foundation. Due to the aforementioned economic and managerial reasons politicians should create efficient incentive structures which will promote the development of a strong fourth old-age pension pillar in Germany.

The Silver Workers Institute: Active Retirees in Germany: If you are interested in the full research report, please send an email to
More information on Silver Workers and the challenges of organizing work for the elderly in order to face the expected demographic development can be found on the website of the Silver Workers Institute in Geneva:
Jürgen Deller: Institute of Business Psychology Leuphana University of Lueneburg, Germany.
Patrick M. Liedtke: Secretary General and Managing Director, The Geneva Association, Switzerland,

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