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Longer Working Lives Require the Involvement of Employers

Political leaders have long argued that people should work for longer as we live longer. However, in order for this to be possible, employers must be involved in adapting activities to suit the needs and wishes of workers. This is shown by a thesis from the University of Gothenburg.

- In Sweden, the issue of a longer working life has become very much about state control via labour market legislation and adjustments to social security systems, says Robin Jonsson PhD Student in Work Science.

Robin Jonsson. Foto: Turid Oom
Photo: Turid Oom, Västra Götalandsregionen

- What politicians forget is that workplace conditions, such as the employer’s attitude and the type of work task, also affect people’s opportunities for longer working lives.

What politicians forget is that workplace conditions, such as the employer’s attitude and the type of work task, also affect people’s opportunities for longer working lives.

Robin Jonsson's thesis examines what hinders or promotes a longer working life. This has involved studying population-representative register data, conducting a survey study among City of Gothenburg employees, and interviewing line managers and their HR support within health and social care. 

The political argument for longer working lives is that the population is ageing, meaning that fewer employees will be supporting more and more people. A number of policy decisions have therefore been taken to increase the economic incentives to work, to reduce the possibility of early retirement and to raise the age limits in the pension system. 

- These policy decisions have probably had some effect,” continues Robin. “Employment rates in Sweden among the 55–64 age group have risen over the last two decades, and are now among the highest in Europe. At the same time, this raises new questions about the consequences of a longer working life for people and organisations alike.

Older people as a labour resource in welfare
Robin Jonsson has focused in particular on Swedish health and social care organisations, which are struggling with staff shortages while the need for welfare services is increasing. For several years, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions has therefore had a stated goal of retaining and recruiting older employees. 

Health and social care organisations are struggling to tap into the potential resource of older employees. Opportunities to retain older staff are hampered by line managers’ heavy workloads, a lack of flexible staffing policies that allow for individual solutions and poor coordination within the organisation. 

- To break the trend, public welfare organisations need to work more proactively, with senior management drawing up strategies to retain older workers and embedding them at all organisational levels.

The importance of a good working environment and flexibility 
Previous research has shown that poor personal health, low job satisfaction, high physical workload and lower work capacity affect when a person retires.
Robin Jonsson's thesis highlights the importance of the interaction between individual and organisational factors in order for older people to be willing and able to work for longer. 

- For example, employers can signal to older employees that they want them to keep working or offer them skills development, job adaptations and flexibility so that the work is a better match for the individual’s abilities and preferences.

In brief

The thesis “Retaining the Aging Workforce: Studies of the interplay between individual and organizational capability in the context of prolonged working lives” (2021) highlights the interplay between individual and organisational factors for postponing retirement, and has been published digitally: