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Age and the general election

In our last blog post for a while we take a brief look at the headlines around age in relation to the forthcoming general election.

Age UK provide extensive coverage on their website on ‘Why the Election Matters to Older People’ suggesting that voters ask their candidate to become an ‘age champion’.  Key issues highlighted on the website relate to issues of poverty, loneliness and care for older people. I was interested to see that pensions don’t occupy the headline slots, though are of course implicated in other issues.

There has of course been much coverage of various promises made by different parties, with the conservatives in particular being seen a wooing to the older vote.  However the Telegraph report that Cameron was recently heckled at an Age UK event – so perhaps that is not going exactly to plan.  In contrast Labour have been positioned as trying to capture the attention of younger voters, particularly in respect to promises to cut university tuition fees.  The independent highlights recent research which suggests UKIP supporters are generally over 55 (and white). The article supported this and other analysis of the recent UK social attitude survey with pictures of Lego characters to represent different electoral tribes.  As with all the discussion about who one the latest debate and which direction the polls are moving in, the interesting analysis will of course take place after the vote, particularly when we see whether the promised policies to whatever group are going to be implemented.

Age at Work are taking a well earned ‘blog break’ and will be back on 13th April!

Do we need the label ‘over active pensioner’?

Are you Britain’s most Over Active Pensioner? 

This is a new ‘competition’ launched by network rail and open to those over 60 who are ‘living life to the full’ while presumably travelling around on ‘senior railcards’.  The website shows a picture of two hula-hoopers  and suggests that being ‘overactive’ might involve ‘crazy adventures’ such as jumping out of a plane (I think they mean with a parachute) or going surfing every weekend (whether this is surfing waves or the web is unclear).

I have a number of problems with this competition:

1) There is no rationale for this provided. Why does network rail want to find out about how the over-60’s spend their time?

2) Is the term ‘over active’ really helpful?  It is used so that the abbreviation OAP can be wittily reimagined but I am not sure what that says about the over-60s?  What about the ‘usually active’? or just the ‘active’?

3) What about the over 60s who are still working?  I realise they may well also have time for surfing etc. but why are network rail only interested in leisure activities?

Government consultation on post-graduate loans suggest age-based criteria

The press have highlighted a number ways in which the UK government might consider ‘targeting’ loans for post-graduate study in England.  As THE reports the Government have not ruled out restricting student loans to particular subjects.  However it is the age-based criteria that caught my attention.  As the ‘Citizen Space’ consultation website highlights: “For the first time, anyone under age 30 who is eligible and accepted to study a postgraduate taught Master’s course, in any subject, will be able to access an income contingent loan of up to £10,000″.  Anticipating particular discussion related to the age-based restriction, a separate document is available which explains the research carried out to identify the ‘under 30′ as the most appropriate cut-off.

As someone who did not return to post-graduate education until I was quite a bit older than 30 I find their conclusions surprising, and worrying.  Firstly, asking hypothetical questions about how current post-graduate students would feel about funding post-graduate education IF they had had a higher undergraduate loan (ie had incurred the £9k per year undergraduate fees as current students do) can not possibly hope to replicate the ACTUAL situation that many of current undergraduates will find themselves in.  To me it seems not unreasonable to suppose that an increased level of undergraduate debt might significantly impact decisions on postgraduate education – one outcome of which might be to delay the age at which you return to study.

The age bands used for the research also seemed rather confusing with some evidence stating that those up to the age of 33 might benefit from postgraduate loans – it seems that a rather unscientific ’rounding’ has produced the age of 30.

And why AGE anyway?  If the real issue here is financial need, then why not an income or means testing approach?  Here it seems that age is assumed to be an indicator of affluence, which is rather misleading.  Interestingly there is no upper age limit for undergraduate loans for tuition (though you have to be under 60 at the start of the course to qualify for a maintenance loan).  If we see age introduced as a criteria for post-graduate loans then I would be concerned this would set a precedent for extending this to undergraduate provision.

What Gap? What the Generations Say About Learning and Technology in the Workplace

It certainly seems to me that having witnessed a boom in news coverage about generational differences over the years since we started this blog, we now seem to be seeing many more articles written across a wide range of outlets suggesting that  some of these ‘differences’ might not be as different as we first thought.  In fairness where we criticise some of the methodological bases of the first type of report we should also highlight deficiencies in the second!

So this is not to say that these findings about a lack of differences in what generations say about learning and technology at work are problem free.  Although the sample size seems reasonable (422) we get very little information in this piece about how the ‘comprehensive research’ was carried out – a complaint we often make about research that does find generational differences.  What is interesting here is that it does seem that they did set out to find generational differences – but didn’t!

As the article on CED, by Wayne Applehans of Jones NCTI says: “We set out to understand generational views of learning and development, and how the different generations want to use technology at work.  Instead of major differences, we found striking similarities across all three generations when it comes to training and technology. Learning and development matters to everyone, regardless of age or life stage“. While the report does highlight some minor differences, the overwhelming findings suggest commonalities around issues of technology rather than generational difference.

Guest Post: Millennials and their “Helicopter Parents:” Myth or Reality?

Today we feature a guest post by Professor Sean Lyons, University of Guelph, Canada.  Sean has published widely about generational issues at work and below explores the emerging trend of ‘Helicopter Parenting’ and the potential impact on young workers.  We are very grateful to Sean for taking the time to write for @ageatwork!  You can find out more about his research via this webpage.

Millennials and their “Helicopter Parents:” Myth or Reality?

Sean Lyons, Ph.D., Department of Management, University of Guelph, Canada

One of the most pervasive caricatures of today’s young workers is that they are the product of over-protective “helicopter parents” who have hovered watchfully over their children at every stage of their development. In a 2012 article in Family Relations, Chris Segrin and colleagues defined helicopter parenting as “a form of over-parenting in which parents apply overly involved and developmentally inappropriate tactics to their children” (p. 237). This parenting style is said to have created a generation of co-dependent adults, who lack the resilience to handle adversity in their own lives. Over the past decade I have heard many anecdotes of overbearing parents intervening in their adult children’s education, micromanaging every detail of academic lives. I initially assumed such stories to be apocryphal and dismissed them as urban legend. However, the frequency and specificity of detail in these stories seems to be increasing.  At a recent speaking event, I asked Chamber of Commerce members “How many of you have had been contacted by parents of employees, applicants or clients in recent years, acting on behalf of their children?” The majority of participants raised their hands. This alone is not evidence of a trend, but it has spurred me to engage in research on the phenomenon of helicopter parenting.

I have been working with Joshua LeBlanc, doctoral candidate in management at the University of Guelph, to investigate this parenting style and its effects on adult children’s careers.  The research concerning the role of parents in children’s career exploration indicates numerous benefits to parental relationships that strike a balance between autonomy and direction, including increased self-efficacy, academic performance, attainment of prestigious careers, feelings of belongingness, career exploration, planning and commitment, mature career decision making, and establishment of peer networks. By failing to strike this balance, helicopter parents may be depriving their children of these benefits. Although research on the effects of helicopter parents is relatively novel, we have identified four areas of potential concern for their adult children: diminished resilience in the face of adversity; unrealistic career expectations; incomplete identity formation; and diminished capacity for secure attachment in adult relationships.

We have just scratched the surface of our understanding of the helicopter parent phenomenon.  However, our initial work suggests that this is a real and important phenomenon that will have lasting impacts on today’s young workers.

‘You can’t blame older workers for youth unemployment’

The Letters page of the Financial Times is the source of today’s blogpost. It features this letter from Ronald Dekker, a labour economist at Tilburg University in The Netherlands, which addresses this earlier FT article by Chris Giles. The latter argues that UK job gains for older workers have come about not through their ‘worth’ but through their exercise of power, likening the ‘genteel grey brigade’ in Britain’s workplaces to ‘the new militant tendency’. He contends that hardship is concentrated amongst the young (which conveniently ignores other factors that might contribute to hardship such as socio-economic status, race and gender).

We’ve seen this argument and its variants many times before. Supposedly different generations (or younger and older workers) are pitted against each other in the labour market, as if chronological age were the only relevant factor.   So we were interested to see what the Dutch labour economist had to say about this.

He argues that blaming ‘grey power’ is nothing more than a ‘mistaken intuition about a generation conflict’. His suggests we should be focusing on why the ratio between the youth unemployment rate and the unemployment rate for those 25 and over is substantially higher in Britain (averaging between 3.5 and 4%) than the EU average (2.5%). This is a higher ratio than in Spain, the Netherlands and Germany. He suggests that the reason is the ‘flexibility’ of the British labour market or what he describes as the ‘lack of connection between the British education system and the labour market’. It’d be interesting to know about more about what he means by this.

His view that older workers are not to blame for youth unemployment is, however, in line with the recent independent report, A new vision for older workers: retain, retrain, recruit, from Dr Ros Altmann. Here the Business Champion for Older Workers sets out findings and recommendations for improving the working lives of Britain’s over 50s.  One of its key economic arguments is that more older workers in paid jobs means higher economic growth and better living standards for all.

Age discrimination and office space – is open-plan anti the older worker?

Strange that we see not one but two items on age and office space in less than two weeks. Katrina blogged about generational differences as justification for the office space squeeze ealier this month. Today we bring you this item on the Fortune website which debates the pros (they’re cheap) and cons (they’re horrible) of an open-plan floorspace. I think it’s written in the context of the IT industry (Silicon Valley, specifically) as there are mentions of programmers.

However, it then launches into what the author describes as the ‘fifth, evil, “pro” of the open-plan office: age discrimination’ which he unpacks as follows:  “It’s well known that older workers are the first to leave when office layouts deteriorate. When you’re growing rapidly, that’s an undesirable side effect. When you’re cutting costs everywhere you can, and you don’t really need experienced engineers, it’s an added bonus to what you’d probably do (decrease office-space expenditures) in the first place.” He also claims that employers who particularly make a lot about the supposed value of open-plan offices also have ‘exclusionary intentions toward older programmers and women’.  Well, there’s no evidence at all provided in the article to justify these claims but he ends by asserting that the trend towards open-plan in Silicon Valley is the interior design equivalent of telling older workers (in the IT industry, those aged 28 and over) that they are not wanted.

(Written from my office at home – nice view of the garden – but I have just moved from an institution where I worked in an open-plan environment to one where I have my own office – it just has a sloping floor….but that’s a whole other issue!)

Ageing, fitness and work: Where’s the reward for staying fit?

I can see a bit of a theme emerging from recent posts on the topic of ageing, fitness and work.

What caught my eye today was this item on the Wales Online website about an Army Reservist and sport and fitness lecturer at Cardiff and Vale College (Kevin Fulthorpe) who has reportedly been told that he couldn’t continue in post as a physical training instructor with the Army on reaching his 61st birthday. He says this was despite meeting the fitness criteria for an Army physical training instructor 30 years his junior, saying. “I may be 61, but even the Army admits I meet the elite training standard for someone half my age.”

Yesterday of course we covered the case of the cricket umpires who had at retire at 65  even though they were described as being at the top of their profession with no suggestion that they were unfit to perform. Earlier this month, we highlighted the CIPD report on employee attitudes and in particular the prediction about a collaborative approach required by employees, employers and Government to look after both the minds and bodies of staff as they age.

Well here we have two instances where it looks as if the older workers (not sure if they are employees or not) were undoubtedly fit but nevertheless have still not been able to continue working in their previous roles. One might ask, if that’s the case for super-fit older workers, what might the case be for others? Are these decisions related to the inherent physicality of the work? It certainly doesn’t seem to offer any reward for their fitness within the confines of their current work – though it may be an advantage in getting other jobs. As Age Cymru’s chief executive Ian Thomas is reported as saying: “Kevin’s story clearly demonstrates the demoralising effect that age-based policies can have on us.”

Cricket umpires lose age discrimination claim: Fixed retirement age gets them ‘off the top of the tree’

Reported here on the Sport24 website and here by BBC Sport, the former cricket umpires Peter Willey and George Sharp lost their age discrimination case against the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) last Friday. They had both been removed from the first-class umpire list when they reached the ECB’s ‘expected retirement age’ of 65.  The questions for the Employment Tribunal were whether this amounted to age discrimination and unfair dismissal.

The tribunal decided that, although age was the reason for their removal, this did not amount to either unfair dismissal or unlawful discrimination.

The themes of ‘other age groups’ and ‘fitness for work’ both appear in the media coverage. The ECB’s statement on the decision, as reported on the Sport24 website, cites ‘intergenerational fairness’ as part of the rationale for the retirement age. The Boards’s umpires manager Chris Kelly is reported to have told the tribunal that the board had taken the right decision, citing “physical and mental pressures”.

Interestingly, having a retirement age of 65 was upheld as a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of ‘intergenerational fairness/succession planning’. The tribunal said: ‘A small group of 25 first class umpires sit at the top of the tree. They earn well, have secure jobs and an interesting and absorbing way of life involved in the sport they love. Waiting in the wings are a number of talented umpires keen to progress to what must be a dream job, the next best to being a first class player.’

They did not, however, uphold that the fixed retirement age was a proportionate means of achieving the aim of ‘preservation of dignity’. Moreover the tribunal were apparently at pains to point out that there was no question of poor performance by the claimants who were described as being at the ‘top of their profession’.

More information about the judgment is available from the website of Cloisters barristers via this link

Retirement age in China and the effects of the ‘one-child’ policy

We look at stories relating to age at work that appear (in English) on Web 2.0; we have alerts set up  which find these and of course this includes ones that appear in the substantial English language press in many countries across the world. Today it’s the turn of a feature on the website of one such paper, the South China Morning Post. As reported here, it covers the announcement that China is planning to raise the retirement age of its workers within the next two years.

The current system, formulated in 1953, allows men to retire at 60 and women at 55. These ages look young compared to US and European state pension ages. In China the situation looks to have been prompted by twin concerns regarding strain on the Government pension scheme, with the regional differences in its financial state, coupled with a rapidly ageing population. By 2050, there will be an average of 1.3 working age people for every retired person in China (currently, there are just over 3). China recently partially eased its one-child policy but the relaxation of rules have yet to result in a baby boom, which makes the latter issue more acute.

In this follow-up article, the plan to raise retirement ages was criticised as ‘unwise’ by a researcher at the Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The researcher, Tang Jun, advocated further relaxation of the one-child policy through encouraging people to have more children to help with welfare costs and to boost the size of the workforce rather than increasing retirement age (suggesting there might be individual negotiation of retirement age). He also said that the second best method was to accept immigrants to increase the size of China’s labour force.

The one-child policy was also reported to have been addressed by Kong Weike, a delegate at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the nation’s main political advisory body. He apparently said the reforms to the one-child policy should go further with highly educated couples being allowed to have three children in order to “adjust the quality of the population”. Ah.


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