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  • Author or Editor: Sarah Vickerstaff x
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The policy debate on older people’s extended participation in working life is not based on a social movement, such as the one putting forward demands on job opportunities for women, and has, by means of categorical stereotypes, mostly characterised older people as the problem. This narrative of individual choices and decisions presents older workers as de-gendered, de-classed individuals, shorn of their individual biographies and social contexts. It also treats the issue of extending working life as a phenomenon disconnected from surrounding society and trends. This line of reasoning points to the need for more sophisticated theoretical foundations. This chapter therefore provides a more encompassing framework for the discussion of extending working lives and outlines a new research agenda, including a power perspective with potential to shed light on age-based inequality, an intersectional perspective and a masculinity perspective which challenges the homogenous descriptions of older workers, a feminist understanding of work and a life course perspective which provides a framework which links the previous three.

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The drift of government policy affecting older workers in the UK has been focused on encouraging individual responsibility for working longer and saving more, often with an idealised ‘adult worker’ in mind; an individual devoid of family context and family demands and accumulated advantages or disadvantages. As a result the policies have a differential impact on women and men and diverse incomes groups and are likely to lead to greater inequality between older workers. The focus on the individual (the supply side in the labour market) also takes emphasis away from the problem of demand: whether employers want to retain or recruit older workers. There is an increasingly strong moral assertion that to live longer should mean to work longer, but research demonstrates that those most likely to be unemployed before state pension age are out of work because of lack of job opportunities, poor health or caring responsibilities.

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This chapter traces the growing concern with health issues at work and examines the argument that work is good for health. It reviews trends in health and the self-reporting of limiting illnesses. A summary is provided of the developments in public policy for managing health at work in the context of an ageing population, high levels of people on incapacity benefits and the government’s case that work is the best form of welfare. The chapter argues that a bio-psychosocial model of the ‘illness experience’ derived from a multi-disciplinary approach is needed to understand how people and organisations can better manage health conditions at work.

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This chapter draws together themes and issues raised in the individual chapters, identifies gaps in our current understanding of how to manage health conditions at work and set an agenda for future research on managing health at work.

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The Challenges of Managing Health at Work

The relationship between health and work is widely recognised as complex and multifaceted. In the context of an ageing population our ability to enable people with health issues to continue working is becoming more critical. This multi-disciplinary volume brings together original research from diverse disciplinary backgrounds investigating how we can define and operationalise a bio-psychosocial model of ill-health to improve work participation in middle and later life.

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New perspectives

Across the world governments in mature industrial and post-industrial economies are concerned about the ageing population. Dealing directly and exclusively with the issue of older workers, this book brings together up-to-the-minute research findings by many of the leading researchers and writers in the field.

The duration and quality of working lives and the timing and circustances of retirement are of growing concern, especially in those cases where employers’ demands and imperatives clash with employees’ wishes. The contributions in this volume focus upon various measures taken by the state and employers to foster the employment of older workers in Britain, mainland Europe, the US and Japan. The authors address key issues that will influence public policy, exploring what workers over 50 want, the impact of the ageing workforce on employer policies and the implications for governments in promoting and supporting extended working lives.

The book is aimed at academics, students, policy makers and other professionals (such as training managers, HR professionals and trade unionists) interested in contemporary issues within social policy, the sociology of ageing, and human resource and diversity management. It wil also be of interest to older workers themselves.

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In the context of the UK government, the goal of extending lives and encouraging people to exit late from the work force is believed to be achievable by the availability of flexible working arrangements, such as part-time work, temporary work and self-employment. To prolong working lives, the UK government has taken various steps such as the establishment of an Extending Working Life group within the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP); regulations to fight age discrimination in the workplace; the raising of women’s state pension age (SPA); and an increase in opportunity for people to defer receipt of their state pension. In addition, the White Paper on pension reform published proposals for furthering raising the state pension age to the age of sixty-eight. While there are many actions and reforms on state pensions, little is known about the existing patterns of flexible working among older workers or on the aspirations and motivation of older workers with respect to flexible work options. This chapter discusses these issues, drawing on work undertaken for the Equal Opportunities Commission. The first chapter discusses the analysis of the Labour Force Survey (LPS) performed from January to May 2006 to provide a picture of the existing patterns of employment among older workers. The second section continues this analysis of the LPS to consider the current patterns of flexible working and the gender differences in these. The third section reviews existing research, which considers the kind of flexible work options that older people need and what informs their needs. The fourth section focuses on the issues from the employer’s perspective. It also investigates the extent to which organisations are likely to increase the range of flexible working options available. The last section concludes by exploring what the consequences are if flexible work was more widely available and whether this would provide advantages or disadvantages for older workers.

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The future for older workers has recently become an issue of major concern to individuals, governments and employers. For many people confronted with diminishing pension savings, entitlements and extensions to state pension ages, the prospects for an early and smooth transition to retirement appear to be diminishing. For employers facing a more regulated labour market with the advent of age discrimination legislation and in the context of changing demographics and possible skill shortages, there is an increasing need for the reconsideration of the management of the older workforce. For governments, concerns about the tendency of people to retire earlier and live longer and the strains on the public purse in terms of state pensions and health service costs called for an increasingly urgent commitment to extending working life. This volume brings together various up-to-date research findings on older workers. It examines from different perspectives the opportunities and constraints that face older workers in post-industrial societies in the twenty-first century. This volume was inspired by a string of seminars which were supported by a grant from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), on the Subject of ‘Employability of Older Workers’. The seminars identified a number of underdeveloped themes that are significant to extending working lives. This introductory chapter provides an introduction to the national and international context for the current interest and concern about older workers. In addition, the chapter also provides an outline of the contents of the succeeding chapters which explores the significance and impact of the various stakeholders — governments, employers and the older individuals — in shaping the future prospects for older workers.

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This chapter reviews common and emerging themes from the chapters in this book and points to what are likely to be the key issues for older workers, their employers and their governments in the coming decades. The chapter begins by providing an initial assessment of the concerns, problems and opportunities expressed by the chapters. The first section of the chapter discusses the government policy and legislative developments that are transforming the employment landscape for older people. The second section considers the perspectives of the employers regarding the threats and opportunities associated with an ageing workforce. The third section assesses what the older individuals aspire for themselves. The last section concludes on the main opportunities and constraints that the ageing workforce implies.

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European Experiences in a Neoliberal Era

More people are extending their working lives through necessity or choice in the context of increasingly precarious labour markets and neoliberalism. This book goes beyond the aggregated statistics to explore the lived experiences of older people attempting to make job transitions.

Drawing on the voices of older workers in a diverse range of European countries, leading scholars explore job redeployment and job mobility, temporary employment, unemployment, employment beyond pension age and transitions into retirement.

This book makes a major contribution and will be essential reading within a range of disciplines, including social gerontology, management, sociology and social policy.

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