ILC-The Netherlands Blog: A Longer Working Life?

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Younger and older employees have much in common. They are devoted to their work; most of them are capable and usually see their work as meaningful. So it’s very strange that employers and employees, the younger as well as the older generation, think that younger employees outperform older ones. Despite an enormous amount of scientific evidence of the opposite, century old prejudices still prevail in our modern society. In view of the rapid aging of the workforce in most industrialized developed countries in the next ten years, these prejudices are a huge restraint to economic growth. To change these prejudices would require a fundamental cultural overhaul, which would probably take several generations.

So a more practical approach is welcome. To get there, it’s useful to dive a little bit deeper into the motivation of employees who reach pension age and have to decide to stop or to continue their working life. Four driving forces propel the employer through this emotionally stressful period. The results are based on qualitative research, conducted by ILC-The Netherlands.

The first and most elaborate force is work itself. Everyday employees craft their job and the image they have of their job. Despite common belief, employees seem to reflect quite often on the motives that keep them going. What appear to outsiders to be the most trivial details, frequently wonder around in their heads. To trim their thoughts, ideas and feelings to the changing circumstances of their jobs they sound out their colleagues. Strict social rules apply here. This is all an expression of the total commitment of people to their working life, which stresses the enormous impact of having to decide to quit.

In the decision to stop, the second powerful force that drives employers is their family. Here the partner plays the most significant role. Quite often a non-working partner urges the working partner to quit his or her job earlier as planned. If both partners work they concur pension dates.

The third driving force is the values an employer holds, for instance a sense of duty. But don’t be mistaken, this sense of duty applies as strongly to their work as to their partner. If the partner makes the suggestion ‘to stop’, the sense of duty towards the partner is stronger

The fourth and last driving force is circumstantial power. This is the power that can’t be controlled at the time of the decision by any individual. A good example is of this is financial circumstance such as mandatory pension age and social prejudice. These circumstantial powers most often lead to loss of motivation at work, not of the motivation to work.

So, what’s the practical solution of the problem? The huge emotional gap between the commitment of employees to their job, and the lack of support by their employers and colleagues, can only be filled by committing employers, managers and employees to mutually express their feelings about the end of working life, to face the fears they all share in this, and to jointly concur them.

Tom van Oosterhout
Member of the special interest group Labour, Income and Participation
ILC-The Netherlands

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