People are working later in life for many reasons. They are living longer and are in better health. A delay in entering the labor market, often due to an increasing number of years spent on education, can also alter retirement timing and financial circumstances. Some choose to work longer; others are driven by necessity. Our research suggests that having a choice—whether to continue working past the once “typical” retirement age or not, without feeling forced to do either—is key to satisfaction and happiness for older adults.
Work in later life can be a rewarding choice, both for the older worker and for the employer, but the likelihood that this will be the case has a great deal to do with the structure of the work environment and with workplace practices and policies (including those concerning ageism). The contributions older workers make to the workplace are numerous, but the positive traits most often cited by employers include: experience, mentorship, dedication, reliability, and loyalty. How employers can take advantage of these strengths while also contributing to the well-being of older workers and making working longer an attractive option, is outlined below:
Changes in Work Structure
- Offering older workers the option to work part-time or on varying shifts
- These changes may make it easier for older workers to transition into retirement, by giving them time away from work to pursue other interests.
- Offering older workers opportunities to job-share or take a leave of absence
- These opportunities would allow older workers time to provide caregiving, accommodate health problems, or participate in volunteer activities without forcing them to exit the labor market.
Accessible Work Environments and Tasks
- Ensuring that work environments are accessible
- Workstations should be modifiable and all physical barriers should be removed from the work environment.
- An accessible work environment will be beneficial for workers of all ages—older workers especially—who require modifications to allow them to keep their jobs.
- Offering older workers the option to change or modify their job responsibilities as they age
- Having the ability to reduce, remove, or modify physical tasks could be important in keeping older workers in the workforce.
Ageism can be a major barrier for older people seeking employment.
- Employers may resist hiring an older worker for the following reasons:
- Belief that older workers are not as productive
- Belief that older workers lack an interest in or ability to learn new technology or undergo training
- Belief that older workers have high turnover rates
- Older unemployed workers can react to ageism in the following ways:
- Older workers often internalize ageism, causing their sense of worth to be diminished.
- Older workers may feel that they have to conceal their age on a resume, by leaving out dates for educational degrees and past work experience.
- During interviews, older workers may try to alter their appearance to look more “youthful” by dyeing their hair or changing their style of dress.
- Older unemployed workers can feel pessimistic about their ability to find a new job causing them to accept part-time work or work at lower wages.