Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Age Management in Danish Companies: What, How, and How Much?

Academic journal article Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies

Age Management in Danish Companies: What, How, and How Much?

Article excerpt

Introduction

discourses about demographic aging have made topical the enlargement-or rather, measures designed to combat the shrinking-of the labor force and extending the working life of older workers. This issue has been a high priority on the political agenda, and comprehensive research has provided input to the political system. The vast majority of this research has centered around the seniors (i.e., the individual), as attempt has been made at identifying what motivates seniors to exit the labor market. A prevailing understanding in this research has been that seniors are motivated or can be lured to exit the labor market by generous early retirement schemes (e.g., Blöndal and Scarpetta 1999; Börsch-Supan 2000; Gruber and Wise 1999), and a comprehensive wave of reforms in Europe has been inspired by this fundamental understanding (cf. Ebbinghaus 2006, 2011; Hofäcker 2010; Immergut et al. 2007; Palier 2010). On the political level, attempt has been made to keep more seniors in the labor market by dismantling or hollowing out early retirement opportunities.

The role and significance of the employers in terms of keeping more seniors in the labor market has been relatively neglected as an area of research, even though very persuasive arguments have been made that you cannot ignore what employers are (not) doing if a greater number of older wage earners are to be kept in the labor market (e.g., van Dalen et al. 2006; Hartlapp and Schmid 2008; Ilmarinen 2005; Vickerstaff et al. 2003). Research focusing on the employers has particularly focused on identifying strategies and examples of good practices, which can provide inspiration and guidelines for the companies that might be interested in investing effort in recruiting and hanging on to senior staff (cf. European Foundation 2006; Institute for Employment Research 2006; Walker 1997, 1999; Walker & Taylor 1998). So far, however, there has been a considerable lack of conclusive evidence as to the extent to which age management as an overall vision or idea at the company level has been translated into concrete planning and action.

The purpose of this article is to cast light on the formation and dissemination of age management practices at the corporate level. Age management may be defined as measures that combat age barriers and/or promote age diversity (Walker 1999; 2002). Age management does not target seniors, as policies targeting specific age groups can be counterproductive. Younger employers will find affirmative action toward senior staff to be unjust, and they will react negatively if given a greater workload; moreover, the seniors themselves will find that they are labeled, pigeon-holed, and stigmatized (Friis et al. 2008). In a broad sense, age management is therefore about the efforts to maintain employability and workability over the entire course of life, and major age management instruments include job recruiting (and exit); training, development, and promotion; flexible working practices; and ergonomics and job design (Walker 1997, 1998, 2005; Walker and Taylor 1999). Basically, age management represents sound human resource management (HRM), without which companies could not recruit or retain their senior (i.e., older) personnel and without which older workers would not be able to participate in working life for as long as they wish to do so.

This article is structured around three interconnected themes. First, it surveys how employers cognitively perceive of older workers and the aging of the population in general as it is presumed that employers' cognitive perceptions set conditions for their inclination to act in an age management-appropriate manner. Second, it focuses on the extent and dissemination of which corporate age management policies the employers actually use. Third, our aim is to produce an explanation of why some companies make use of age management practices while others do not, while at the same time identifying which type of companies are most prone to employ such practices. …

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