Organisational strategies for active ageing

In 2006, the University of Hasselt launched a research project on active ageing, aimed at promoting age-related human resource management strategies within Belgian companies. The research findings indicate that, when companies initiate change, attention is not only paid to the content of such change, but also to the process and the meaning behind it. Much emphasis is also placed on involving all of the parties within an organisation in the change process. Moreover, the organisation endeavours to stimulate the professional development of all employees in order to create favourable conditions for an active ageing of the workforce.

An article on age diversity (9.11Mb PDF) published in the Ageing International journal summarises the results of the project ‘Silver instruments and processes’ (Zilveren instrumenten en processen (in Flemish)), which was run by a team of experts from the University of Hasselt and partly financed by the European Social Fund (ESF). The research focused on how to develop the necessary dynamism to facilitate and encourage the different actors within the company – employees, human resources (HR), management and trade unions – to invent and experiment proactively with age-friendly HR management policies. The basic assumption is that, if the financial and legal frameworks foster such ambitions, people are willing to work longer provided that their aspirations and competencies are concurrent. In this regard, an age-friendly organisation develops new practices that stimulate the integration of aspirations, competencies and self-efficacy of workers.

Conceptual framework

The conceptual framework of the project has three interrelated aspects.

  • Organisational practice and its three dimensions: The content, process and meaning of a practice are interlinked and should always be assessed in relation to each other. The project assumes that when all three dimensions are taken into account, a project has a higher chance of success.
  • Professional functioning and its three interrelated aspects: Each worker ideally tries to establish a perfect harmony between aspirations, competences and self-efficacy in order to realise professional dreams and to engage in lifelong learning. The project assumes that if these hopes are fulfilled, people will be prepared to work longer.
  • Clusters of age-related management: In order to achieve integration between aspirations, competencies and self efficacy, age-related practices can use certain instruments. The project divides these instruments into four clusters:
    • Formal state aids offered to companies, mainly legal and financial instruments, such as a time credit system, early retirement or pension plans.
    • Formal assistance tools, independent of the actual work in terms of time and space, such as age-friendly internal and external application procedures, a reward system that supports age-related management or competence management.
    • Semi-formal assistance tools, which take place within the context of work, such as work meetings, learning groups and mentoring.
    • Informal, constructive working methods, such as extended job descriptions, job rotations or inplacement.

Method of intervention

The project is based on the intervention principles of organisational development. The core aspect of these principles consists of developing tailor-made processes together with the various actors within a company to create a ‘win-win’ situation. In an effort to achieve this, focus groups were set up. The experimentation took place in two organisations: the large private sector chemicals company Borealis and a public sector city administration, Hasselt city council. Initiating a change process in the organisation was the main objective of the project.

Main conclusions

Based on the results of the focus groups, the research concludes the following:

  • using the three dimensions of the concept ‘practice’ – content, process and meaning – was shown to be successful in developing age-related HR management techniques and policies. Not only the content of a practice is important, but the relational process and the meaning that people give to organisational practices are equally significant. People underline these two dimensions as being factors that encourage them to work enthusiastically and for longer, or inhibit them in doing so;
  • when people achieve full professional functioning they understand better the importance of working longer than initially aimed. Workers change their aspirations, aim to use and further develop their competencies, and want to achieve a higher level of self-efficacy throughout their career;
  • the HR task consists in creating the conditions that will stimulate the ‘desire to work, mobility, and learning’ of every employee at all career stages. To achieve this, management needs to develop a strategic vision, a development-oriented HR infrastructure and a policy to motivate skills training with specific action plans. Employees expect management and HR to take control and to send a clear message: ‘Yes, we want older employees to work enthusiastically, effectively and efficiently for longer.’

The study’s authors are of the opinion that age-related HR policies can offset, to a certain extent, the challenges associated with active ageing by stimulating work enthusiasm and professional development throughout an individual’s entire career. However, they warn that, in parallel, it is the government’s duty to form a legislative framework that will motivate organisations to begin the learning curve towards establishing an age-friendly organisation.

Reference

Martens, H. et al, ‘An organisational development approach towards age diversity: practices in Belgian organisations’, in Ageing International, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2006, pp. 1–23.

Guy Van Gyes, Higher Institute for Labour Studies (HIVA), Catholic University of Leuven

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