Academic journal article Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health

"Mental Retirement?" Trajectories of Work Engagement Preceding Retirement among Older Workers

Academic journal article Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health

"Mental Retirement?" Trajectories of Work Engagement Preceding Retirement among Older Workers

Article excerpt

To counter the pressure of the ageing population on the social security system, there is a need for workers to prolong their working lives. In the Netherlands, like in many other European countries, several pension system reforms have been implemented to encourage extended careers and prevent early exit from the workforce, including a gradual increase of the state pension age from 65 years in 2012 to 67 years in 2021 (1). In addition, other routes of exit from the workforce (ie, disability pension and unemployment) are becoming more restrictive. In past years, the mean age of leaving employment increased from 60.8 years in 2001 to 64.4 years in 2015 (2). For employees and employers, it is important that workers maintain high work motivation while extending working life. Higher work motivation has been related to the willingness to continue working (3) and a lower intention to retire early (4). We conceptualize work motivation as work engagement in the present study. Work engagement is defined as a positive, fulfilling work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption (5). Higher work engagement has been associated with higher work ability (6-8), which, in turn, is associated with increased productivity at work (9). Higher work engagement has also been associated with less sickness absence (10).

However, the prospect of retirement may cause pre-retirement work disengagement (11). Retirement is considered to be a process that starts with anticipation of retirement, followed by the retirement act itself, and ends with post-retirement adjustment to the new situation (12). According to the career stage theory, late careers can be characterized by a period of decline, ie, a period of "tapering off prior to retirement" (13). Furthermore, it is suggested that older workers who approach the retirement age develop a "short-timer's attitude", due to accommodation to the upcoming separation from their work and forthcoming social situation (14). Taking these theories into account, it is likely that work engagement among older workers may decline when they are facing retirement. Henkens et al (15) introduced the concept of "mentally retired" employees, which they described as employees who have already disconnected themselves from their work. On the basis of interviews with managers in the Netherlands, they concluded that every manager knows examples of mentally retired employees in their organization. Damman et al (11) added that older workers are more likely to decrease their work investments and activities and experience lower motivation when they approach planned retirement.

Although previous research has provided indications that older workers who approach the retirement age may distance themselves from their work, it is unclear how this process occurs or, more specifically, how work motivation develops with pending retirement. To illustrate, Damman et al (11) had a broad understanding of the preretirement disengagement process, which includes a decrease in work investments and activities and declining work motivation. However, it is likely that these domains do not always develop in the same way. It is, for example, possible that older workers experience lower motivation to work when they approach retirement, but at the same time have a stable level of work activities. Moreover, trajectories of work motivation have not been studied yet.

Therefore, in the present study, we zoomed in on work motivation (ie, work engagement) among older workers who approach the retirement age. The first goal was to identify different trajectories of work engagement among older workers approaching the retirement age. The second goal was to examine the associations of the different trajectories of work engagement with actual retirement.

Methods

Design and study population

The current study is part of the Study on Transitions in Employment, Ability and Motivation (STREAM). STREAM is a Dutch longitudinal study among, at baseline, 15 118 persons including employees (N=12 055), self-employed persons (N=1029), and persons without paid employment (N=2034) aged 45-64 years. …

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