Company attitudes towards employing older workers

A 2006 survey conducted by the University of National and World Economy among human resource managers examined the attitudes and stereotypes associated with the employment of older workers. The respondents mainly valued the loyalty and experience of older workers; however, they were critical of their resistance to organisational and technological change. The survey also found that organisations are still not aware of the necessary policies targeting the ageing workforce.

About the survey

The survey (in Bulgarian) ‘Employment of the workforce aged 50 to 64 years– opportunities for development’ was conducted by the Labour and Social Protection Department of the University of National and World Economy (UNWE) in late 2006. The main findings were published in 2007 in the UNWE journal Economic Alternatives. The survey sought to examine the extent to which companies are aware of the ageing workforce and to assess their practices for retaining older workers.

A total of 60 respondents completed an online questionnaire. Most of the respondents (61%) worked in human resources, and the remainder were either employers (27%) or directors (12%). The participating companies encompassed those operating in services (58%), industry (24%) or other sectors (18%). Not surprisingly, a high proportion (67%) of the respondents consisted of women, as human resources is a female dominated profession in Bulgaria.

Main findings

Perceived advantages of hiring older workers

When asked about the advantages of hiring older workers, more than half of the respondents in the 20–40 years age group indicated that the main advantages included their:

  • greater loyalty (cited by 63% of the respondents aged 20–40 years);
  • invaluable experience (56%);
  • ability to serve as mentors to less experienced workers (50%);
  • stronger work ethic (50%);
  • established network of contacts and clients (50%).

Figure 1 shows the percentage breakdown for these and other advantages. Only 6% of the respondents indicated that hiring older workers yielded no advantages. It is worth mentioning that the respondents above 40 years of age perceived more advantages in hiring older workers and at a higher frequency.

Figure 1: Perceived advantages of hiring older workers, by age of respondent (%)

Perceived advantages of hiring older workers, by age of respondent (%)

Note: The figure shows the proportion of respondents’ answers to the question: ‘In your opinion what do you view as advantages to hiring older workers?’.

Source: Yordanova, 2007

Perceived advantages of hiring older workers, by age of respondent (%)

Perceived disadvantages of hiring older workers

The respondents were also given the opportunity to highlight potential disadvantages associated with hiring older workers. In general, older workers are perceived as being less efficient and flexible than their younger counterparts. As shown in Figure 2, the most frequently cited disadvantages of hiring older workers were their:

  • preference to work on known tasks and with known methods (23.3%);
  • lack of foreign language skills (20%);
  • inability to keep up with technology (18.3%);
  • fear of changes at the workplace (18.3%);
  • lower flexibility compared with younger workers (16.7%).

Figure 2: Perceived disadvantages of hiring older workers (%)

Perceived disadvantages of hiring older workers (%)

Note: The figure shows the proportion of respondents’ answers to the question: ‘In your view what do you view as disadvantages of hiring older workers?’.

Source: Yordanova, 2007

Perceived disadvantages of hiring older workers (%)

Human resource management practices for older workers

Other significant findings of the survey were as follows.

  • The perceived advantages and disadvantages of older workers influence the employers’ attitudes to hiring such workers and their retention at work. The respondents stated that they would hire older workers if they need someone with a specific qualification (cited by 25% of respondents), more experience (20%), or to ensure the transfer of knowledge and skills (17%).
  • The increasing age of the workforce has, to a relatively small extent, led to changes in recruitment, retention and management policy/practice. Thus, over 60% of the respondents indicated that the ageing issue influences human resource management (HRM) only to a certain degree, with just 15% of the respondents indicating that it impacted HRM to a very large extent.
  • With regard to the company policy on older workers, the survey findings show that pre-retirement is not regarded as a gradual transition from employment to economic inactivity. Companies attach less importance to the active strategies seeking to encourage older workers to stay at work. Such strategies include flexible work organisation (considered important by 11% of the respondents); financial incentives for older people to remain in work (7%); training programmes (5%); decreasing the workload (4%); improvements in working conditions (4%). More importance was attached to policies aiming to prepare substitutes (24%) and recruit new workers (20%).
  • The use of flexible working practices in companies does not target older employees in particular and is not used fully to bridge the transition from permanent full-time employment to retirement. The flexible practices most often used for older workers are non-standard contracts (cited by 36% of the respondents), flexible working time (19%) and working unsocial hours (8%). However, for most of the organisations, the flexible arrangements apply to all personnel and are not a response to the specific problems associated with the ageing workforce.

Commentary

This survey contributes to the debate on ageing, which is currently taking place in Bulgaria. Against the background of a persistently low employment rate among people aged 55–64 years – which stood at 46% in 2008 – the survey identifies the need for more coherent policies to encourage active ageing.

Reference

Yordanova, M., ‘Flexible employment of the labour force aged 50 to 64 – opportunities for development’, Economic Alternatives, 2007/2, University of National and World Economy (UNWE), 2007.

Nadezhda Daskalova, Institute for Social and Trade Union Research (ISTUR)

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