From time to time we aim to highlight recent research about age at work that challenges current thinking. One such recent paper is:
ABSTRACT: This article argues that older age inequality within and across working life is the result of vampiric forms and structures constitutive of contemporary organizing. Rather than assuming ageism occurs against a backdrop of neutral organizational processes and practices, the article denaturalizes (and in the process super-naturalizes) organizational orientations of ageing through three vampiric aspects: (un)dying, regeneration and neophilia. These dimensions are used to illustrate how workplace narratives and logics normalize and perpetuate the systematic denigration of the ageing organizational subject. Through our analysis it is argued that older workers are positioned as inevitable ‘sacrificial objects’ of the all-consuming immortal organization. To challenge this, the article explicitly draws on the vampire and the vampiric in literature and popular culture to consider the possibility of subverting existing notions of the ‘older worker’ in order to confront and challenge the subtle and persistent monstrous discourses that shape organizational life.
We found this an insightful and useful conceptualisation of constructions of ageing and would be interested to see how a similar lens sheds light on the construction of youth (fresh blood). The identity of the vampire in complex and varied organizational contexts would also be good to open up for further examination.
Reported in the Guardian in their “Older People” section, under the headline How can workplaces meet the needs of ageing employees? , Jeremy Myerson discusses his research into the answering this question. He found that “young workforces have far more in common with their greybeard colleagues when it comes to the physical workspace than is commonly believed. It isn’t just older workers who crave quiet and privacy when they want to concentrate on solo tasks – or dedicated tools and spaces for collaboration when they want to work in a team. Everybody does.”
Reading between the lines it seems that the ‘generational differences’ at work are often overplayed. He further suggests “contemplation remains the missing link in office design, particularly so in the aftermath of the financial crash, which has depleted workplace design budgets. It seems we still have a long way to go to make our workplaces more welcoming and comfortable. Right across the age range.”
I’m off for a coffee and a contemplate then!
Celebrated annually on 8 March, the 2014 theme for International Women’s Day is: “Equality for women is progress for all”, described by the UN as “a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas”.
As is often the case other organizations link in with this event to highlight specific issues of concern, one of which is the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies reported here. Based on a recent survey (14th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey of Workers) they are highlighting Fourteen Facts about women’s retirement outlook:
- Only 7 percent of women are “very confident” in their ability to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle.
- Forty-three percent of women expect to work past age 70 or do not plan to retire.
- More than half (52 percent) plan to work after they retire.
- Most (65 percent) Baby Boomer women do not have a backup plan if forced into retirement sooner than expected.
- Fifty-three percent expect to self-fund their retirement through 401(k) or similar accounts or other savings and investments.
- Of women who have or plan to take time out of the workforce to be a caregiver, 74 percent believe it will negatively impact their ability to save for retirement.
- Forty-five percent of women work part-time so are less likely to have workplace retirement benefits.
- Sixty-one percent of women are offered a 401(k) or similar plan.
- Seventy-five percent of women who are offered an employee-funded plan participate in the plan.
- Six percent is the median contribution of women who participate in their employer’s plan.
- Fifty-five percent of women are saving for retirement outside of work in an IRA, mutual fund, bank account, etc.
- The majority (59 percent) of women who estimate their financial need guess what their retirement savings needs would be rather than using a calculator or advisor.
- Only 35 percent of women use a professional financial advisor, most (79 percent) doing so for retirement investment recommendations.
- Many women (53 percent) want information that is easier to understand.
Fourteen Facts survey report and fact sheet and additional information can be found at http://www.transamericacenter.org.
This week is UK National Apprenticeship Week and RealBusiness.com reported the launch by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who highlighted the benefits for and from young people. The week is also being promoted by the National Careers Service. However it is worth noting that in principle there is no upper age limit to applying for an apprenticeship but there are restrictions on the funding provided by government to support individual who have undertaken other forms of post-16 education, and there is a specific source of funding “Apprenticeship Grant for Employers of 16 to 24 year olds” or AGE 16-24 which specifically supports this group of younger workers. This and the general idea that apprenticeships are for those starting out in the world of work does seem to lead to a lack of focus on apprenticeship opportunities for other age groups, but they are out there!
Well the Oscars have been and gone for another year. But in honour we have pulled out some age related headlines.
Did you know for example that Oscar Winners live longer than nominees, according to this article in businessinsider.com. The oldest winner was Christopher Plummer who received his award aged 82 whilst receiving hers at the tender age of 10, Tatum O’Neal remains the youngest. While here you can see a calculation of the Prime age to win an Oscar (as at 2012) which shows that the average difference between the categories of actor and actress is 8 years (in case it needs saying – that’s the actress’s being on average 8 yrs younger). As this site (overthinkingit.com) points out there are two age related tendencies that need to be considered when looking at average figures however: “Hollywood worships youth and beauty” AND “Hollywood loves actors who have paid their dues and waited their “turn.””
Regular readers will know that we have long identified the use of the term ‘lost generation’ to describe unemployed young people and how it is deployed to justify Government action to address their situation.
This piece in the Independent argues that the economic downturn has disproportionately affected young people’s job prospects in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. it accompanies another item in the same paper announcing Government plans to put together measures to help NEETs (16-24 year olds Not in Education, Employment or Training).
The key measures seem to be:
- Young people not wanting to go to university will enter a nation-wide UCAS-style clearing system at age 16 which will provide details of college courses, apprenticeships, traineeships, work experience and job opportunities;
- Jobcentres will be available to 16 to 17 year-olds for the first time for advice on finding work;
- 18-21 year olds out of work for six months will lose their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) if they have not achieved Level 2 maths and English and refuse training (under a trial scheme);
- Work experience for 18-21-year-olds on JSA for six months in a pilot project aimed at building up their confidence;
- Schools will be ordered to provide much better careers advice;
- Schools will have a duty to develop close links with local employers.
These all look like process changes rather than anything substantive so it remains to be seen what effects they will have.
This was the title of a debate hosted yesterday evening by the British Academy, the first in a series of debates on the ‘big issues’ of the day, in this case, population ageing. The idea is to look behind the stereotypes at the academic evidence with the focus being on public engagement.
Those who follow us on twitter will probably have noticed that we ‘live tweeted’ headlines from the event (and probably don’t want to hear any more about it, we had to go for cocktails afterwards to recover). For those who didn’t attend or follow the twitter stream, there were 4 speakers:
Professor Alan Walker (University of Sheffield) who talked about the role of political choice in determining public spending in a society which tends to see ageing from the ‘burden perspective’ and the need to tackle the structural lag which sees, for example, employment policies lagging some 20 years behind demography such as the increase in health life expectancy.
Professor John Hills (LSE) examined the distribution across age groups of recent spending cuts and of wealth. He pointed out that the older generation is not typically better off than other age groups, rather there are much bigger differences within generations. The real issue to be addressed is between wealthy older people and those in younger age groups to whom wealth will not trickle down through inheritance.
Bronwen Maddox (Prospect Magazine) talked about how personal longevity is a source of anxiety for individuals particularly following loss of confidence in financial institutions. Changes that might help a difficult political situation where promises have been made e.g. pension committments, include helping people to downsize – both their jobs (to help them work longer but not at the same pace as before) and their houses.
Professor Julia Twigg (University of Kent) discussed the notion of the Baby Boomer, how it’s a preferred media term whilst not a coherent concept. She described it as an inherently classed term, one that relies on imagery of middle class, healthy, active coupledom and is based on consumption. Whilst originally part of an attempt to portray older age in a more positive light, the term Baby Boomer now operates to erode our notion of continuity across the lifespan.
The British Acadamy filmed the event so I imagine it will be available to view on their website at some stage.
The next debate in this series will be on Tuesday 25 March at 6pm in Sheffield, details here. It promises to be interesting ‘Too Old and Ugly to be Useful? Challenging Negative Representations of Older People’.
Employment law firm Slater & Gordon have commissioned research into the ‘experiences of 2,061 people over-40′ in response to what they say is a ‘steady increase in age discrimination cases in the last five years’.
Reported here by the Chartered Management Institute and in more detail here on the Slater & Gordon website, the headline finding is that ‘Brits feel invisible in the workplace at the age of 54′. This is said to be ‘the exact point when the nation’s workforce consider that their career prospects are negatively impacted by their age’.
From the press release, there looks to be some interesting material here, for example, that the perception by the over 40s that they weren’t seen as ‘dynamic’ by their managers or as part of the future of the business. Certain industries are highlighted with people working in finance or IT more likely to feel invisible to younger staff and to feel they had hit a wall when it came to career progression.
However, and we’ve said this many times before, without being able to see the full report and methodology it’s difficult to comment on the reliability and validity of the research. For example, the press release describes this as a survey of the ‘experiences of 2,061 people over-40′ but also reports that workers as young as 40 felt their career was stalling because of their age. So we’re not quite sure about the age group who took part. It’s difficult to assess age-related experiences in the workplace if you only ask people above a certain age. If anyone has more information on the age groups involved in the study, we would be very happy to hear it.
Here’s an interesting item on the Employee Benefits website relating to the impact of an ageing workforce and the trend towards longer working lives. Whilst its focus is on the issue of employee benefits, it also identifies these key take-home points for the time-pressed reader:
- Older workers may choose to work because they enjoy their job, not because they can’t afford to retire.
- An ageing workforce requires employers to rethink the make-up of their benefits.
- Workforce planning should be about employees’ skill sets, not their age.
These headlines avoid some of the usual ‘age / work’ stereotypes. However, the article features a case study from the University of Lincoln which includes a quote from the university’s Reward and Benefits Manager. This rather reinforces some of these age stereotypes that we see from time to time and is interesting (to us, at least!) because of the reference to ‘generations’ in the workplace. Describing the university’s intern programme launched two years ago, the Reward and Benefits Manager is quoted as saying: “We have made room for the skillset that generations Y and Z bring, very much around technology and different ways of thinking, by running the programme alongside the core workforce.”
It looks like the particular stereotype around younger workers and technology is holding up and the use of ‘generations’ in its maintenance is worth noting.
In our exploration of web based data, we are used to seeing opinion pieces written about work (by which we mean employment, unemployment, under-employment etc) that focus on a particular (chronological) age group. They often offer interesting insights into how these age groups are socially constructed.
In this piece in The Telegraph, John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, calls on the Chancellor ‘to put youth employment at the heart of his Budget speech next month’. The author of the article starts by saying that young people have a ‘unique contribution’ to make to a business (though he doesn’t expand on what this might be). He declares that ‘Young people want to work and employers are ready to hire them’. This might imply that that there isn’t a problem. But what is interesting is his argument that this on its own is insufficient, invoking the ‘lost generation’ argument and using this to justify the idea that Government intervention is required. According to Mr Longworth, Government must ‘make young people more attractive to business, such as paying grants to firms that are prepared to hire a long-term unemployed young person or take on and train a new apprentice’.
Overall, the article constructs young people as insufficiently attractive as potential employees, as ‘a risk’ and as an employment choice requiring financial reward. Moreover, it also positions business as unwilling or unable to undertake training of young people without such ‘reward’ which seems to be something of a shift from earlier years when taking on staff and providing ‘on the job training’ was common.