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Generational “differences”? Work ethic examined

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have covered the topic of ‘generational differences’ more than once; the methodological limitations of many studies in this area are now well rehearsed – for example – investigating attitudes of one ‘generation’ and claiming it possesses some unique characteristic that must be accommodated in the workplace. If we were to be cynical we might say that these ‘findings’ promote a certain type of business – that of telling managers how they must / can manage this accommodation.

A recent paper published this summer reports on a meta-analysis of 77 studies and 105 different measures of work ethic in different ‘generations’ : Zabel, K. L., Biermeier-Hanson, B. B. J., Baltes, B. B., Early, B. J., & Shepard, A. (2017). Generational Differences in Work Ethic: Fact or Fiction? Journal of Business and Psychology, 32(3), 301-315.

The article is behind a pay wall but see here in Science Daily for a useful synopsis: ‘The analysis found no differences in the work ethic of different generations. These findings support other studies that found no difference in the work ethics of different generations when considering different variables, such as the hours they work or their commitment to family and work. Zabel’s team did however note a higher work ethic in studies that contained the response of employees working in industry rather than of students.’

This is the latest in a line of papers that suggest that so-called ‘generational differences’ have been over-stated at best and at worst are the product of sloppy methodologies.

Back blogging with a round up

After an eventful summer we are back with a brief round up of the notable – though not necessarily insightful – news on age at work over the last few weeks!

Off to #EthSym17 tomorrow!

Rebecca and I will be presenting our paper called “Facing up to Work” at 12th International Ethnography Symposium in Manchester this week.  Looking forward to meeting old and new colleagues and getting feedback on this new area of our research

Pension age – changes brought forward

On a busy news day for the BBC (see #notonthelist), the increase in state pension age is to be brought forward to 2037.  This change impacts those who are currently aged between 39 and 47.  In principle this gives those affected 20 years to plan for this change, although future changes are not necessarily ruled out.

The timing of the announcement – at the same time as research reporting that the rate of life expectance increase was slowing – was noted by many as slightly incongruous.

Do “contemporary women over 45” need their own magazine?

I recently spotted “Renaissance Magazine” at London City Airport and it sparked my curiosity.  This is a new magazine, launched in 2017 and will be published three times a year.  From its website it aims to:

“break conventions with exquisite fashion editorials featuring models over 40, essays for the mind & soul and interviews with inspiring people from around the world”

and  address “the needs and interests of contemporary women over 45”.

You could (at a push) argue I am absolutely their target market – so why didn’t I buy a copy?  Because it really doesn’t look that different!

Issue 02 offers the option of ‘choosing‘ your own cover for the ‘body’ issue.  However these images raise many of the same issues that are often debated in the literature about constructions of the ‘acceptable’ ageing body (here, still looking like a super model).

This is timely in light of our forthcoming research presentations at conferences this summer in which we examine both our own and others aesthetic labouring and ageing!


Latest UK labour market statistics from ONS – time for a re-think?

The Office for National Statistics produces a monthly report on the UK labour market. Each time I see it I wonder why it records and reports on the work-related activities and status of people ‘aged from 16 to 64’ when we live in a country which has abolished mandatory retirement and state pension ages are steadily rising. Time for a re-think at the ONS?

The headlines for the June bulletin are that:

  • the number of people in work increased;
  • the number of unemployed people fell; and
  • the number of people aged from 16 to 64 not working and not seeking or available to work (economically inactive) also fell.

In terms of trends regarding longer working lives, there was an increase of 60,000 people from last year (up to 1.20 million) who were not looking for work because they had retired. I guess one explanation is that people out of work might choose to self-classify as ‘retired’ rather than as ‘jobseeker’. But the longer term trend is still towards working longer into later life. The figure of 1.20 million is 358,000 fewer compared with the same period in 2011.  The ONS attribute this to the ongoing changes to state pension age for women which has resulted in fewer women now retiring between the ages of 60 and 65.

The tech start up where all employees are over 55

Last week the Telegraph reported on a South Korean Tech Start up called ‘EverYoung’ where all the employees are over 55, with the oldest employee reported as 83.  It reports that “The company, founded by 56-year-old executive Chung Eunsung, aims to address South Korea’s demographic timebomb and challenge a corporate culture steeped in age discrimination in favour of the young”.   This is no small operation either with a total of 450 employees.  While some of the policies here sit uneasy in a UK employment context – the company operates “a strictly ageist policy of only employing staff over the age of 55” according to the Telegraph article – the challenge to the common stereotype that tech start ups are only for the young is a refreshing change.  Nevertheless some aspects of stereotypes remain here as the article emphasises the presence of blood pressure monitors and benefits include cash bonuses for grandchildren.


Constrained Agency in Later Working Lives #retirement #laterlife @hydeM1976 @OUPAcademic

Many thanks to Martin Hyde, Associate Professor in Gerontology at the Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University for drawing our attention to a Special Issue on Constrained Agency in Later Working Lives in the journal Work, Aging & Retirement.

Work and working in later life and how this impacts on the notion of retirement is very much up for debate at the moment. We have reported a number of illustrative stories over the years on this blog, for example, individuals seeking to be allowed to work for longer but also occupational groups seeking to protect their retirement entitlement at ages below the current state pension age.

The Special Issue looks the role of structure and agency which are seen to play an important (but often unexplored) role in research on late careers and retirement. In this context, structure means social structures that constrain or enable the choices that individuals make around retirement. These could be social policies, social norms as well as an individual’s social background. Agency refers to the notion that individuals make their own plans and choices.

The dual focus of the articles is:

  • exploring the labour market situations in which individual agency is constrained against a background of population ageing, longer working lives, and the growth in ‘flexible’ forms of work;
  • exploring which individuals are being constrained in their agency during later working lives and in retirement processes.

Happily too the articles in the Special Issue are open access rather than behind a paywall. Here are the details of the individual papers with links:

Authors: Martin Hyde; Ellen Dingemans

Are “Voluntary” Self-Employed Better Prepared for Retirement Than “Forced” Self-Employed?

Authors: Douglas A. Hershey; Hendrik P. van Dalen; Wieteke Conen; Kène Henkens

Authors:Jan Paul Heisig; Jonas Radl

Authors: Hanna van Solinge; Kène Henkens

Authors: Hannes Zacher; Cort W. Rudolph

Authors: Monika E. von Bonsdorff; Yujie Zhan; Yifan Song; Mo Wang

Happy reading!

Focus on older workers to plug UK skills gap

A new campaign, which has been variously called the ‘silver quota’, is highlighting the need for business to focus on recruiting ‘older workers’ to address the UK skills gap.


These companies are highlighted as already committing to this target and publishing age data: viva, Atos, Barclays, The Co-operative Group, Home Instead Senior Care, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), Mercer, and Boots UK are the first employers to publically pledge their commitment to meeting this target and have already published their age data.

However I was slightly confused as to the way in which this data might a) recorded b) organised and c) utilised.  The BITC appear to ask for raw numbers in two categories: 50-64 and 65-69 which I find slightly baffling!   Why not collect ALL AGE related data and use the same size chronological age bands.  Further this does appear to suggest that 69 might be the upper end of ‘older workers’ when there is no default retirement age.

We have also highlighted before the issue of the broad and generic age label “older” to apply to everyone over 50!  We are not alone as this article usefully points out:

Crisis, what crisis? Who counts as NEET as experts argue for #youth #employment programme

Remember NEETs, those aged 16-24 who are not in education, employment or training? They come under the spotlight periodically and were in the news again this week in this article in The Independent. The latest figures from the ONS apparently show that the number of NEETs has risen significantly in the past year. Oddly, the article only refers to those aged 16-18 so it’s not clear if we are talking about the same group.

More than 7% of those aged 16-18 are now classed as NEET which is approximately 134,000 people. It’s suggested that this age group isn’t receiving careers advice and training opportunities.

We also now have NETs (not sure I’ve seen this acronym before). These are said to be 16-18 year-olds who are not in education or training. The number of NETs has also risen, up by 2% to 15.5%.

The article quotes Kirsty McHugh of the Employment Related Services Association (ESRA) as saying: “Central Government just do not see youth unemployment as a crisis. But actually, it’s been a big problem for a long, long time and that has been the case since before the economic crash.” Well, we’ve certainly seen in our data alerts a number of occasions when the crisis formulation has been used to describe youth unemployment. Currently the youth unemployment rate is 12.7% (for 19-24 year olds, yet another age group) compared to an overall UK unemployment rate of 4.6%.

It is noteworthy how different ages are used across the article, e.g. for youth unemployment these are not the same as the NEETs or NETs. Does this allow the conflation of different statistics to create a more compelling case for intervention? In the context of the general election, it’s interesting that Ms McHugh decides that the current absence of a Government youth employment programme is a contributing factor.

Other points to note: look at the stock photo! I’ve not seen that one before but it’s certainly ripe for visual analysis, particularly when you also read some of the reader comments below the line.

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