Companies plan for an ageing workforce

The ageing of the workforce is an issue that all companies in Luxembourg must deal with. The Observatory of Professional Relations and Employment within the Ministry of Labour has launched a research programme into workforce ageing and retaining older workers in employment. A general analysis has identified the crucial role of the quality of working conditions in encouraging older workers to stay at work. However, a survey conducted among companies in Luxembourg shows that only a minority of them are improving the working conditions of older workers. Most of those that do so are companies that in general terms have a human resources policy aimed at ensuring a better quality of life at work.

Adapting working conditions to meet the changing needs of staff plays a key role in encouraging older workers to stay at work. Adjustments can be made in three broad areas: working hours, function and tasks, and physical welfare and health at work. In the spring of 2004, the Centre for Population, Poverty and Socioeconomic Policy Studies (Centre d’études de populations, de pauvreté et des politiques socio-économiques, CEPS) conducted the survey among private sector companies in Luxembourg employing 10 people or more. The survey aimed to assess to what extent companies have become aware of the issue of workforce ageing.

The CEPS survey was carried out in the context of the research programme on ‘Keeping older workers at work’ which was launched by the Observatory of Professional Relations and Employment (Observatoire national des relations du travail et de l’emploi, ORPE) within the Ministry of Labour and Employment (Ministère du Travail et de l’Emploi). The survey examined various aspects of an ageing workforce (LU0607049I) such as the arrangements that are being put in place in relation to working hours and tasks, and identifying which companies are using such arrangements.

Arrangements for older workers

Some 16.3% of all companies employing older workers (aged 50 years or more) report that they made adjustments to working conditions between January 2003 and April 2004. Various types of adjustment were cited, with some companies using more than one option (see Table).

Type of adjustments implemented by companies
Type of adjustments implemented by companies
Type of adjustment Percentage of companies applying them
Adaptation of working hours and partial adaptation of tasks 8
Development of one-off tasks 4
Development of supervisory tasks 4
Transfer of older employees to less difficult or less physically arduous positions 8

Source: CEPS/Instead, April 2006

The study identified two categories of business that have not introduced any new arrangements concerning working conditions: those that have not taken any measures because none of their older workers felt the need for them, and those acknowledging that new measures will become necessary. In terms of working hours, for instance, among the 92% of companies that have not taken any adjustment measures, 72% considered that it was not necessary. The others did not make changes because it was not possible to do so.

Profile of companies making adjustments

The larger the company, the more likely it is to have particular arrangements in place regarding working conditions for older workers. This may be explained by the fact that the larger the company, the more likely it is to be faced with the problem of an ageing workforce. In addition, larger companies have a greater variety of available positions, creating better opportunities for more flexible work arrangements.

In overall terms, as the proportion of older workers rises, increasing numbers of companies are introducing arrangements to meet changing needs. However, there appears to be a threshold phenomenon. When the proportion of older employees exceeds 17%, the proportion of companies proposing adjustments stops increasing. This suggests that, given the high number of employees to whom such arrangements may be relevant, companies may be incapable of adapting working conditions to a sufficient extent.

Human resources management

The analysis shows that adjustments to working conditions are more likely to be made in cases where a company is experiencing difficulties in retaining its personnel regardless of their age.

This is also the case where a company adopts a general policy of improving working conditions. Some 24% of companies surveyed report that they have made general improvements to working conditions. These companies also claim that they have agreed to adapt working conditions for older workers, compared with 11% of companies that have not introduced any particular practices with regard to improving working conditions. A company’s approach to human resource management (HRM) is thus an important factor.

Overall, two approaches may be envisaged: the management of older workers may be integrated into a comprehensive HRM policy; or, alternatively, it may be handled separately. Nearly 40% of companies employing older workers have made at least one adjustment to working conditions – applicable to staff of all ages. Such companies reported that they were implementing one or more of the following measures:

  • reduction of working hours – reported by 20% of companies;
  • timetable adjustments – reported by 18% of companies;
  • changes to functions – reported by 25% of companies.

Among companies with a policy focusing more on older workers, 43% of those do not apply the same measures for other age groups. In other words, for six out of 10 of these companies, the arrangements apply to all personnel, whereas for four out of 10 such companies, the adaptation of working conditions for older workers forms part of a response to the specific problems associated with workforce ageing.


Zanardelli, M., Leduc, K., ‘Favoriser le vieillissement actif : les pratiques des entreprises en matière d’aménagement des conditions de travail en fin de carrière’ [Supporting active ageing: business arrangements in terms of working conditions for workers approaching retirement], CEPS/Instead, Population et Emploi, No. 14, April 2006.

Odette Wlodarski, Prevent

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