Skip to content

The ‘obligations’ of older workers – if they want to stay working for longer

Here’s an interesting piece on the Business Life website that includes the suggestion that older workers have certain obligations if they wish to remain employed in later life. It argues that older workers fill a real skills / labour shortage – rather than ‘stealing’ jobs from the young – but that they need to pay attention to what the labour market requires.

It cites the MD of an executive recruitment firm as saying: “The mistake senior people make is to talk all the time and not listen. I’ve seen a number of very capable people get turned down because a panel found them to be cocky and act as if they knew everything. Employers couldn’t see them fitting in with their culture.’

Another contributor, a Chairman of a consulting and technology company, is quoted as saying that older workers need to honour their obligations to develop ‘personal communication skills, the ability to work in a multi-aged team, and [to be] a lifetime learner who actually likes gaining knowledge’.

I think what’s interesting in this piece is that it begins to qualify and go beyond some of the so-called positive stereotypes of older workers (which, we have argued, can be as damaging as negative stereotypes in their capacity to limit employment opportunities). Indeed, could it be that some of the quoted behaviours (being cocky and acting as if they knew everything’) be an unconscious reflection of needing to fulfil the stereotype of being wise and experienced?

Finally, I would also say that these ‘obligations’ could usefully extend to people of all ages who are in work or seeking jobs.

Age and careers in the performing arts

This was going to be a post about the UK Government’s consultation (which closes this Friday 29 August) about proposed changes to the regulations governing the hours that child performers can work. But other performers whose stories have age-related interest popped up in the news too. So here are my highlights in this area:

  • According to this piece in The Telegraph the Government launched a review earlier this summer into child performers prompted by complaints following Hollie Steel’s tears on Britain’s Got Talent. The review looks at proposals for new safeguards to protect young performers in light of ‘new entertainment formats’ such as the TV talent show.
  • Details of the Government proposals are available here but broadly involve relaxing some of the limits on how long children can work, the timing and length of breaks, latest performance times etc. Interestingly these are very much determined by the child’s chronological age. The Telegraph here debates whether the West End theatre may benefit from these changes. It cites Andrew Lloyd Webber’s decision to debut his new show on Broadway rather than London as due to ‘Britain’s stringent rules on child performers require hiring three or even four actors for one role’ as a result of current regulations.
  • Last night’s Emmy Awards have been declared (as here in The Telegraph) as a ‘triumph for women of a certain age’ – which I think is code for women over 50. This is attributed to ‘a surge in the past couple of years of meaty small screen roles for highly respected – and in many cases, Oscar-winning – women of a certain age’ and the 2014 Emmys as their reward. Winners included Kathy Bates (66), Jessica Lange (65), Allison Janney (54) and Julia Margulies (48). Not sure that in the UK we can make the same claim about a surge in TV roles for women in this age group.
  • The BBC Today programme included a profile this morning (via this link) on Wizz Jones (aged 75), described as an ‘unsung guitar hero’ who modestly describes his biggest achievement as ‘survival’ and his relative lack of fame (beyond those in music industry) as a matter of personality.
  • And of course speculation mounts (eg as here in The Mirror) as Kate Bush (56) is due to give her first live stage performance tonight after 35 years. Will she still have ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ is)?

How do job seekers address age-related stereotypes?

As reported here on the university website, Ann Marie Ryan, Michigan State University professor of psychology, has a study which will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Managerial Psychology, entitled “Strategies of job seekers to combat age-related stereotypes.”

Ryan and colleagues surveyed unemployed job seekers of all ages under the theory that older people perceive more discrimination and make an effort to downplay their age during interviews. The theory proved correct.

The study also found that younger workers avoided discussing their age, apparently so they wouldn’t be seen as too inexperienced.

This of course may be a finding that would not be replicated in the UK because of the legal differences between the countries. In the US, the law on age discrimination applies to those aged 40 and over whereas here as in all EU countries, age (any age) is a legally protected characteristic.

Longer working lives and the ‘older worker hotspot’

Our friends at City law firm Lewis Silkin have produced this useful analysis of the impact of the abolition of the Default Retirement Age (DRA) in 2011, using data from the ONS and specifically looking at employment rates of those over 65.

They compare the period post abolition with the 1990s (when the number of over 65s in employment was relatively static at between 400,000-500,000) and the noughties (when the figure grew consistently, reaching 800,000 by early 2011). Post DRA abolition, the number of over 65s in employment has increased by an average of 7,600 per month.  The number in this group in fact increases by over twice as many each month than previously. Even during the economic recession the number continued to grow, albeit more slowly, showing the extent to which some of us are experiencing longer working lives.

What about those in the age group 50 to 64? The Government has released employment rate figures for this group (referred to as ‘older workers’) shown as a comparison between local authorities (press release and link to data via this link). The geographical variation has prompted a couple of papers (the Daily Mail and the Courier) to refer to areas with higher rates of employment as ‘older worker hotspots’.

According to the figures, Watford (89.5% of this age group in work), the Shetland Islands (88.3%) and Dorset (87.2%) are the areas with the highest rates of employment among older workers. At the other end of the scale, areas where around half of older workers are out of work include Hyndburn in Lancashire (48.1%), Rossendale in Lancashire (48.2%), west Somerset (49.2%), Tower Hamlets in London (50.6%) and Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria (51.7%), prompting observations about the difference in industries and sectors which likely play a part in these variations.

Good to see Ros Altmann quoted as saying: ‘We need to get rid of the traditional stereotype which suggests that people over 50 are too old to learn or change and are expected not to work, even if they want to’.

The Fields Medal: The age and gender intersection

I keep an eye on the analytics for our blog, recently adding a widget on the home page that shows the top three most read posts or pages over the previous 24 hours.

There was a big spike in interest last week in a post we wrote back in February about age and the Fields Medal (often referred to as the ‘Nobel prize’ in mathematics). The reason for this became clear when the four latest recipients of the Medal were announced</on 13 August. They included Maryam Mirzakhani the first woman to be awarded the Medal since the prize's inception in 1936.

Interestingly, the press release seems to try to dilute the significance of this gender 'first' by linking it to 'national' firsts that apply to all the recipients: "each of them a notable first for the Fields Medal: the first woman and the first Iranian, Maryam Mirzakhani; the first Canadian, Manjul Bhargava; Artur Avila, the first Brazilian; and Martin Hairer, the first Austrian to win a Fields Medal".

Professor Sarah Hart of Birkbeck was interviewed on the BBC Today programme about Maryam Mirzakhani’s contribution to mathematics and why it has taken so long for the first woman to receive the Medal. Her explanation of the latter was that, with an upper limit of age 40, the intersection of age and gender is particularly challenging for women as the years that ‘count’ for the prize coincide with the time when women are most likely to have young children. Which just adds to our original argument that we couldn’t see how the age limit could be justified, even against the stated aims of the Medal.

You can hear the Today discussion via this link, the relevant interview is at 1:42:25.

Age at work is on the move!

Today is Katrina’s last day in the Department of Organizational Psychology at Birkbeck.  She is moving to take up a Senior Lectureship in the Department of People and Organisations, at the Open University Business School from the 1st September.

Age at work research, blog and twitter will be continuing as normal – though with an intermittent service over the next couple of weeks.  Then we will be back and as opinionated as ever.  Watch this space for more news of presentations and papers in the Autumn.

UK reduction in unemployment but still concern for the young

The BBC reports that despite reductions in youth (16-24) unemployment there is concern both about the remaining rate of youth unemployment and structural issues that will cause ongoing issues.  The report highlights that the IPPR has reviewed the relationships between jobs availability and those in training and notes that “94,000 people were trained in beauty and hair for just 18,000 jobs, while only 123,000 were trained in the construction and engineering sectors for an advertised 275,000 jobs”.  The BBC report also notes that 700,000 young people have never had a job.

Boeing and its older workers

Unfortunately age discrimination cases are often in the news these days but it is not so often that we read a really thorough review of the history and issues at stake. From the US, this article in Crosscut by Marissa Luck, provides a comprehensive summary of a variety of age discrimination claims (historical, pending and forthcoming) between Boeing and either groups of older workers or individuals.  While quite different from the processes within the UK, this serves as a very useful overview of the issues at stake in age discrimination legislation in the US.

Today is “International Youth Day”

In a useful overview, this article in the International Business Times outlines the history of International Youth Day which has been celebrated on August 12th since 1999.  The piece quotes UNESCO as saying the aim is to “draw attention to key issues concerning youth worldwide”, with the UNESCO website providing details of various thematic discussions with peace as a central concern.  Meanwhile, According to the UN, the main focus of International Youth Day 2014 is inclusion with a particular emphasis on issues of mental health (via the twitter hastag #mentalhealthmatters), although their webpage also provides links to a special report on migration.

The EU however is highlighting issues of work and unemployment on the 15-24 year olds across Europe, under the heading of Generation Z in numbers (some figures however are provided for 15-29 year olds).  Linked to yesterday’s post this also includes some interesting figures about the average age of leaving home which seems to range from about 19 in Sweden to over 32 in Croatia.  (Perhaps it is our household is up to 5 with returning off spring this summer that is making these figures seem particularly pertinent!)

Job Protections for Older Generation are Barriers for Younger Workers

The Wall Street Journal reviews the circumstances of different age workers across Europe and, particularly when comparing the status of parents and children, finds the latter are struggling.  Focusing particularly on the situation in Italy and Spain the article particularly focuses on the shift from well protected permanent contracts with generous retirement provision across most sectors, to the predominance of temporary contracts.  These not only provide less secure employment for those entering the workplace more recently but also restrict access to financial services such as loans and mortgages.

The article follows two families stories, and what becomes clear from these particular examples is that these issues are affecting the whole family.  Highlighting the number of ‘boomerang’ children and multi-generational families it is clear that all are making financial and other sacrifices to cope with this difficult situation.  This solution has however apparently become part of the problem as, quoting an LSE economist, the article states that “by supporting their children financially, parents have unwittingly also blunted public pressure for changes to labor rules and pension rights “.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 263 other followers

%d bloggers like this: