Finland: Outlook on working life and retirement

More than one-third of Finnish employees aged 50–64 estimate that they will continue working past the earliest retirement age of 63 years, according to a 2013 survey. However, an equally large proportion of the survey’s respondents feared that their working life would end early due to disability or unemployment.

Background and objectives

As in many other European countries, Finnish policymakers have long wanted to extend people’s working lives. An ageing population has led to extensive pension reforms, beginning in the mid-1990s, aimed at gradually raising the retirement age to a point where public finances can sustain pension payments. More reforms are expected to take effect in 2017. In 2012, the effective retirement age was 61.9 years for women and 61.8 years for men, below the OECD average of 63.1 years for women and 64.2 years for men. Finnish people retire earlier than their peers in other Nordic countries.

The Finnish Centre for Pensions has studied the connection between conditions at work and the retirement intentions among employees aged 50–64 years, looking especially at whether wage-earners consider their working life to be sustainable (in Finnish).  The report was compiled by experts at the Finnish Centre for Pensions in collaboration with Keva, the local government pensions Institution.

Methodology

The study was based on data from the 2013 Quality of Work Life Survey (in Finnish) carried out by Statistics Finland, which questioned people aged 50–64 on their retirement intentions (N=1,742 wage earners). The review method of the study is descriptive and based on bi- and tridirectional cross tabulations. The survey has examined conditions at work on multiple levels: the features of the wage-earner’s individual work, the workplace community and the features of a person’s wider work organisation. It defined retirement intentions as:

  • an employee’s intentions to continue working past the earliest age at which one would be eligible for old-age pension;
  • their perceived possibility of an early end to working life, due to uncertainty related to disability and/or unemployment.

Occupational status, sector and perceived working ability were taken into account as background factors.

Key results

The results cited in the report suggest that working conditions at any level of an organisation have an impact on the sustainability of working lives, although conditions of the workplace community are most strongly linked to retirement intentions (Table 1). As for the two possibilities that might end working life early, the prospect of unemployment is more related to factors at the organisational level and external circumstances; fears of disability are more linked to an individual’s working conditions. However, other factors seem to affect plans to defer retirement. The study also found differences among occupational groups in terms of which working conditions most strongly affect retirement intentions.

Table 1: Working conditions in relation to employees’ intentions 

Level of working conditions

Deferral of retirement past earliest retirement (64 years or later)

Early termination of working life due to unemployment

Early termination of working life due to disability

Features of the employee’s work tasks

++

 

+++

The workplace community

++

++

++

Features of the wider work organisation

++

+++

+

Source: Järnefelt, Perhoniemi and Saari (2014), Työolot ja eläkeajatukset 2013, Finnish Centre for Pensions, Tampere.

Factors affecting an employee’s intention to postpone retirement

According to the study, working conditions at all levels of an organisation contribute to an employee’s intentions to defer retirement past the earliest retirement age. Significant factors included:

  • flexible working hours;
  • employees' ability to influence their own work;
  • opportunities to learn and to receive training at work.

To some extent, the results varied among different occupational groups. Blue-collar workers saw the ability to influence the content of their own work as crucial to their decision to continue working after the retirement age. White-collar employees were motivated by good training opportunities, while higher skilled white-collar workers based their intention on whether they had a job with interesting content.

Fears of unemployment and disability

The 2013 Quality of Work Life Survey recorded record high levels of perceived job insecurity in Finland. Almost 25% of Finnish employees said they were concerned about unemployment and temporary lay-offs. Almost 20% of older employees feared that unemployment would cut short their working life. Factors that appear to more often generate a fear of working life being cut short include: 

  • limited opportunities to influence one’s own work;
  • staff reductions and other larger changes at the workplace;
  • financial instability in the organisation.

People were also more likely to fear losing their jobs if they experienced heavy time pressure at work. The fear of unemployment, however, diminished if their work included the following factors that naturally create a sense of confidence in the future

  • good opportunities for training and learning;
  • opportunities to influence the distribution of work;
  • support by the organisation of older workers. 

Employees in the private sector were more worried about the prospect of unemployment than their counterparts in the public sector. 

The share of employees who said they worried about disability cutting short their working life was only slightly higher than those fearing unemployment. For all employees, independent of work ability, certain working conditions were more likely to be associated with fears of disability:

  • night work;
  • adverse physical work environment;
  • mentally strenuous work;
  • time pressure.

Only minor differences were recorded between the different occupational groups. Flexible working hours and the chance to take breaks at work appeared to reduce the perception that disability was a possibility.

Employees who had already experienced a weakened ability to work more commonly feared disability. They reported lower motivation to continue working past the earliest retirement age. Mitigating factors in this respect included:

  • an integrating staff policy;
  • cooperation and support from a supervisor;
  • flexible working practices taking into account the needs of the individual worker.

Furthermore, while all employees in Finland have occupational health coverage paid for by their employers, a well-functioning system of occupational healthcare appears to reduce fear of disability. Factors related to fears of disability differed between occupational groups: the atmosphere of the work community was more important for less-skilled white-collar employees, while physical and chemical hazards were of more importance for blue-collar workers.

Commentary

While different occupational groups see different factors as being important for the sustainability of working life, individual adjustments to working conditions and employee participation were important to all groups. This is something that has already been identified in national working life strategies and development programmes. In the National Working Life Development Strategy, adopted in 2012, one of the four focus areas is ‘trust and cooperation’. This is an area especially important against the background of change and uncertainty currently characterising Finnish working life. This is why Finnish reforms to prolong working careers have gone beyond solely raising the retirement age. The social partners, in particular, have highlighted the role of working conditions and well-being at work as crucial to this. According to this latest study, previous research has shown that employees’ own expectations of their retirement age coincide with their actual retirement age. However, with 30% of employees fearing that their working life will finish early, there is plenty of room for improvement.

 

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