Academic journal article Management Revue

Sustaining the Work Ability and Work Motivation of Lower-Educated Older Workers: Directions for Work Redesign**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Sustaining the Work Ability and Work Motivation of Lower-Educated Older Workers: Directions for Work Redesign**

Article excerpt

This study examines directions for work redesign which might lead to the creation of sustainable jobs for lower-educated older workers (45 years or over, ISCED 0-2) and thus motivate and enable them to extend their working lives. We use longitudinal data on 1,264 older Dutch workers collected by the Netherlands Working Conditions Cohort Study to analyse the characteristics of the work of lower-educated older workers and how these differ from those of higher-educated older workers. The aim is to determine whether work redesign initiatives directed to these characteristics might have the desired effect of enhancing work ability and/or work motivation. This study is unique in its focus on lower-educated older workers as a target group for active ageing policies at the EU, national and company HR levels, and also in its focus on work redesign rather than the training or improvement of the health of workers. Our findings suggest that redesigning social work characteristics can be a first step in developing sustainable jobs for lower-educated older workers. Moreover, a redesign of contextual work characteristics also seems promising.

Key words: work redesign, older workers, lower educated workers, work ability, job characteristics-(JEL: J24, J28, J81)


Ageing workers and active ageing policies are high on the EU social policy agenda. Widi the drastic changes in the age structure of the working population in Western Europe and worldwide (European Commission, 2008; United Nations, 2007) the proportion of older employees is increasing, leading to future mass retirement (Vaupel & Loichinger, 2006). Recent projections by Eurostat (2008) show that in the coming decades the proportion of older people (65+) among the total population within the EU-27 will rise from 1 7% in 2006 to 30% in 2050. At the same time, the proportion of people under 25 years of age is expected to decline from 30% in 2000 to 23% in 2050. These trends combined will result in a reduction in the size of the working-age population (25-64), which from 2040 onwards will represent less dian half the total population (Descy, 2006). This will cause an estimated structural labour shortage of 20 million people by the year 2030 in the EU alone (European Commission, 2005).

In order to avert the risk of massive labour shortages and to keep pension and healdi insurance systems affordable, increasing the participation of older workers in the labour market by preventing early forced pension inflows and dius extending the retirement age is currently one of the main focal points of labour market policies in EU countries (Peterson, 1999; Phillipson & Smith, 2005; Proper et al., 2009). Activation policies which have the goal of increasing lifelong learning and employability are also of significance (Sickles & Taubman, 1986; HaU & Mirvis, 1995; OECD, 2006; European Foundation, 2008). These institutional measures and incentives send a clear message to all employees to start diinking about extending their careers rather dian retiring early. At the company level, organizational HR strategies have also begun to focus on the important issue of dealing with future labour shortage risks and enhancing work performance by sustaining the motivation of older workers and their ability to continue working (Rau & Adams, 2005; Armstrong-Stassen, 2008; Kooij, 2010).

In this article we focus on older workers, aged 45 years or over, who have received litde or no formal education (ISCED 0-2). Statistics indicate mat they are a high-risk group with regard to healthy and productive - or 'active' - ageing. Older lower-educated workers have poor health in comparison to both younger and highereducated workers (Dutch Statistics, 2008) and this has repeatedly been shown to lead to higher exit rates (Nicoletti & Peracchi, 2001; Phillipson & Smith, 2005; Henkens et al., 2009; Ybema et al., 2009). Stuthes also show that lower-educated workers and older workers more often suffer from chronic illnesses and have higher sickness absence levels in terms of time spent off work (Nauta & Gründemann, 2005; Ybema et al. …

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