Workers over 50: Getting the balance right

Mechanic working on a car

Europe is growing older: between 2007 and 2012, the number of people aged 50 years and over in the EU rose from 178 million to 190 million. The future picture is one of an increasing number of retirees being supported by a shrinking population of younger workers; hence, the EU and Member States want to encourage older people to remain in employment for longer. One way to go about this is to find out what older workers actually want. A new policy brief from Eurofound, Work preferences over 50, uses data from the third European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) to map how older people work in practice and what forms of working life would suit their needs.

When I’m 64? Working beyond retirement

Employment rates for older workers are rising, partly due to some Member States' discouraging early retirement and raising the pensionable age. It seeems that a steadily increasing proportion of people are working beyond the age at which they are entitled to a pension – 65 years and over. The reasons for continuing to work go beyond the need for a better income and include the less tangible benefits of work: intrinsic satisfaction, better social inclusion and an improved quality of life. Indeed, findings from the EQLS and the European Social Survey indicate that up to one half of retirees not currently in paid work would in fact prefer to be working.  

Working longer but working less, caring more

While older Europeans may be keen to work longer in their lives, they are more likely to want to work fewer hours per week. People aged over 50 who are caring for a child, grandchild or disabled adult face a particular challenge: while they often want to work, they rarely want to work full time as this might compromise the care they deliver. While state and employer support is widely available for younger workers providing childcare, such support is less available for older workers looking after partners or elderly parents.  For working carers, therefore, work–life balance conflicts can be quite common.

Adapting work practices 

Given the diversity of older Europeans' lives, it’s not surprising that their working preferences differ greatly. Companies could introduce working arrangements that meet the needs of older workers and employers, such as adapting the content of the job to meet the particular abilities of older workers or facilitating different start and finish times in the working day. Earlier Eurofound research examined initiatives for adapting working practices to ensure greater sustainability of work and longer working lives for employees. This new policy brief highlights that many older workers may be seeking a new direction, for example, by becoming a mentor to newly recruited staff; such a development can both boost employment among older workers while helping to integrate younger people into the labour market.

For the complete, detailed analysis, download Work preferences after 50 from the Eurofound website.

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