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Tough talking on older workers by Towers Watson

While on their own web pages, Tower Watson headline their latest survey “Which Employees are delaying retirement and why?”, the Wall Street Journal’s article reporting on the survey is more provocatively titled “Older Workers clog the employment pipeline”.

The WSJ articles states that the survey finds that “many people who are delaying retirement are less healthy, more stressed, and more likely to be disengaged from their jobs”.  They quote Steve Nyce,  a senior economist at TowersWatson as saying “The concern for employers is that this creates a productivity drag,”.  However this is based solely on the measure of employee engagement used within the survey – Towers Watson’s own measure that is, and classifications of poor or good health and low or high stress.  These are not particularly fine-grained measures and the resulting stereotyping by the WSJ headline suggests we need to take care when assessing survey findings.


Men make more complaints (in Western Australia)

Since the introduction of employment tribunal fees in the UK the majority of attention has been on the overall drop in claims .  For example: There were 79% fewer claims received (9,801) in October to December 2013 compared to the claims received (45,710) in October to December 2012 (Reported by Morgan Lewis) with the fall across the board for all types of claims.  Figures analysed by Morton Fraser show that age discrimination claims had the highest average settlement in 2013-14.

However what caught my eye today was the breakdown of claims over in Western Australia, reported in their regional news.  This suggests that in the last year there has been a switch between the claims made by men and women, with men now accounting for 53.1 per cent of them compared with 41.1 per cent the previous year.  The report suggests a number of possible reasons for this increase but notes a rise in age discrimination cases as particularly significant.

We will be searching for more comparisons across the globe over the coming months.



Tory policy on new houses for the young (under 40s)

Not that long ago we reported on the appointment of a UK government advisor( a business champion) for ‘older workers’, asking the question: does the 50+ definition for older workers help or hinder?

Now the Tories have announced a policy in which “Up to 100,000 new homes are to be offered to first-time-buyers under the age of 40 at a discount of 20%”, here reported in the Guardian but picking up coverage throughout the UK press.  The Guardian ( and others) quote David Cameron as saying “We want to help more young people achieve the dream of home ownership so today I can pledge we will build 100,000 homes for young, first-time buyers. We will make these starter homes 20 per cent cheaper by exempting them from a raft of taxes and by using brownfield land.”

So if you are under 40 the Tories think you are young…..and if you are 50+ you are an older worker.   Since I fall in between these two categories I am feeling rather left out.  Does that make me part of the squeezed middle-aged?

Nestlé ‘Alliance for YOUth’ to tackle (youth) unemployment in Europe

I think this may be the first time we’ve featured an item from the Food Production Daily website but we long ago ceased to be surprised at some of the sources that appear in our alerts on age at work.

Anyway, this article on their website reports that some 200 organizations have joined together under Nestlé’s ‘Alliance for YOUth’ to tackle youth unemployment in Europe.  The focus seems to be on providing young people with advice on CVs, interview preparation as well as with opportunities for internships and work experience. Some of the companies involved are Facebook, Google and Nielsen. The programme is part of a wider initiative called ‘Nestlé Needs YOUth’ – a slogan that linguistically looks inclusive and then, on closer inspection, isn’t.

With high youth unemployment in many parts of Europe – we’ve reported many times on the EU Youth Guarantee schemes – it’s not surprising to see this sort of undertaking. What is a bit disappointing is the design of the Nielsen survey, as reported. It seems to have involved asking 2000 people aged 18-29 in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK about what they saw as the biggest problem for society in the future, who they blamed for lack of opportunities for young people and about their job prospects.

Now, I’m not sure what the purpose of the survey was – to justify a youth employment initiative? – but both the sample and the reported questions seem destined to provide these kind of headlines. More concerning is when surveys like this are used to bolster the argument in favour of addressing work issues for one age group at the expense of others. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but shouldn’t these opportunities be available to all who need them, regardless of age?

“A glaring need for younger talent” – Age discrimination in higher education?

The Inside Higher Ed website in the USA features this article about a recent ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court allowing a claim for age discrimination to proceed to trial. The claim is brought by ‘a longtime adjunct instructor of English’ (I think this is the equivalent of a sessional lecturer in the UK) at Clark College. She accuses the College of age discrimination in not selecting her for a tenure-track job (permanent academic post). Although the labels may be different, the distinction between these different types of university employment will be familiar to those working in UK universities which often employ sessional lecturers to part of their programmes.

In this case, the claimant Kathryn Scrivener had been at the College since 1994 as a part-time adjunct and had been a “temporary” full-time instructor since 1999. She was 55 at the time of not getting the tenure track position. Apparently, her claim is based on statements made by the College’s then-president during a college-wide speech in 2006, the year she did not get a tenure-track job. According to the article, he allegedly said that there was a “glaring need” for younger talent among the faculty. He also allegedly advocated hiring instructors with no experience for the open positions in the English Department, which Scrivener argues hinted at bias against older applicants. She said he also impersonated Jon Stewart, host of the “Daily Show,” in her interview and said he wanted applicants with “funk,” which she interpreted to mean “youthfulness.”

Scrivener’s lawyer says she feels confident in her client’s case,  because of the former College president’s statements regarding a “protected class” (i.e. applicants over 40 years old who are protected from age discrimination in US states).

The article also examines the wider age related implications of what can seem like a two tier career system in universities and is worth a read. It makes the point that people are being appointed into academic posts at older ages than before but wonders if this is a problem with a young student body. (Maybe the student body is getting older in some places, too!).

Extending Working Lives: research project on transitions from work to retirement

Extending Working Lives is a research project headed up by Professor Sarah Vickerstaff at the University of Kent. The project team features experienced researchers from a number of academic institutions around the UK, including Professor Wendy Loretto at the University of Edinburgh and Dr Joanne Crawford at the Institute of Occupational Medicine and IOM Consulting, both of whom we met up with at the Gender and Later Working Life stream at the GWO conference this summer.

The new project website is available via this link. We’ve also added a link to their website on the home page of this blog.

There’s a current vacancy for a research fellow to work on the project too.

The study will examine the various transitions from work to retirement which have undergone radical transformation over the past few decades.The aim is to contribute to knowledge about the processes and factors which exert influence on working in later life with the aim of enhancing policy development and employer practice.

We very much look forward to following their research.

Cher is sued for age discrimination

The Telegraph here reports that singer-actress Cher is being sued for discrimination by three former dancers who have performed as part of her stage show for a number of years.

Two dancers (male) allege race discrimination and the third, a woman aged 42, alleges age discrimination. We’ve no further details of the age claim, most of the press coverage has focused on the race aspects.

Interestingly, this article mentions both Cher’s own age (68) and her ethnic background: her father was an Armenian-American truck driver and the ancestry of her actress-model mother may have included Cherokee Indian.
I’m not quite sure why either of these are relevant unless it’s a subtle suggestion that one’s own older age and minority ethnicity make it less likely that one would discriminate on these grounds.

“Fresh, unpredictable and cutting edge”: The 80 year old winner of the John Moores Painting Prize

A couple of years ago on this blog I pondered the connection between age, work and visibility (here), and wondered whether some forms of work (such as art or writing) allowed for greater age invisibility. I picked up on Rose Wylie who at the time was 77 and had been described as an up and coming artist.

So I was delighted to hear on last Friday’s edition of BBC Radio 4 Front Row that Rose Wylie – now aged 80 – has just won a prestigious art award, the John Moores Prize. In this piece in The Telegraph, she is reported as saying: “My sort of age group don’t think about recognition, we just think about getting on with the work. This sudden interest is peculiar and it’s certainly unexpected, but it’s wonderful.” It  also reports that – rather refreshingly given the numerous ways in which older age is euphemised – she describes herself as ‘blinking old‘.

Regular readers of the blog will know that we have highlighted the (problematic) age limit of 40 applied to the Fields Medal in mathematics. In contrast to this and the Turner Prize, which excludes artists over the age of 50, the John Moores Prize, founded in 1957 and part of the Liverpool Biennial arts festival, has no upper age limit.

Sandra Penketh, director of Liverpool’s art galleries, said: “Rose’s personal story is very exciting. At 80 years old she happens to be double the average age of previous winners. Her style is fresh, unpredictable and cutting edge.” How many times have we seen those characteristics attributed to the work of someone aged 80? Will we see more linguistic associations between older age and potentiality / newness / fashion?

Age in Scotland – does the referendum tell us anything?

Throughout the closely fought campaign there was much discussion of both gender and age key dimensions in voting preferences.  Age was a particularly key dimension as the vote was extended to 16 and 17 year olds for the first time, with much made of younger tendency to the ‘Yes’ against older ‘No’ voters.  For example a specific aspect of the Yes campaign focused on “Generation Yes” asking young people to help “move their older relatives to yes“.  The picture was of course more complex, with for example, much press coverage given to a letter from young shipbuilders supporting the ‘better together’ campaign.

 In the end the answer, as we know, was No.  Reuters provides useful breakdown by both age and gender, following the trends across polls and comparing these to what is known from the final vote.  Interestingly this suggests that “the Yes campaign lost ground across all age groups except those aged 40-59.



EU release further details on Youth Guarantee

The EU has today issued a press release outline further details (including funding) for the EU Youth Guarantee noting that a similar broader initiative is under consideration by the G20.

The EU Youth Guarantee aims to ensure that across member states those under 25 are offered specific help and assurances to find employment.  Specifically the guarantee states that “Member States should ensure that, within four months of leaving school or losing a job, young people under 25 can either find a good-quality job suited to their education, skills and experience or acquire the education, skills and experience required to find a job in the future through an apprenticeship, a traineeship or continued education”. 

The EU press release highlights the following EU figures:

  1. Over 5 million young people (under 25) were unemployed in the EU-28 area in July 2014.

  2. This represents an unemployment rate of 21.7% (23.2% in the euro area). More than one in five young Europeans on the labour market cannot find a job; in Greece and Spain it is one in two. This means that around 10% of the under 25 age group in Europe are unemployed.

  3. 7.5 million young Europeans between 15 and 24 are not employed, not in education and not in training (NEETs).

  4. In the last four years, the overall employment rates for young people fell three times as much as for adults.

  5. The gap between the countries with the highest and the lowest jobless rates for young people is extremely high. There is a gap of nearly 50 percentage points between the Member State with the lowest rate of youth unemployment (Germany at 7.8% in July 2014) and with the Member State with the highest rate, Spain (53.8% in July 2014). Spain is followed by Greece (53.1% in May 2014), Italy (42.9%), Croatia (41.5%), Portugal (35.5%) and Cyprus (35.1% in June 2014).

The press release acknowledges that not all EU states are equally ready to implement the new policy and structural reform will be required in many countries.  Pilots are currently running across seven countries (including the UK) to trial various reforms.


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