All country reports emphasise the changing perspectives of national governments on the role of older workers in economy and society. The global tendency reflects a shift in policy focus from early retirement to extending work life. Three lines of argument are presented to defend this policy shift: economic, demographic and social.
Countries stress the economic relevance of diversity in general. A diverse workforce within organisations will connect more closely to the consumer/client population by reflecting its age structure, contributing to improving the commercial performance of organisations. Keeping older workers active also contributes to maintaining/transmitting knowledge and experience in organisations. At macro level, it supports the sustainability of social security, health care and pension systems.
Demographics are also relevant to active age management. The changing composition of the (working) population leads to labour market shortages in the future and keeping older workers active contributes to resolving labour market bottlenecks.
A final argument is that to uphold solidarity and ethical principles, the age structure of the work force should be similar to that one of the population (within working age).
A striking example of this change in policy comes from Denmark, where for many years labour policies aimed at increasing access of youth to the labour market rather than older people. In support, municipalities had a national agreement creating favourable options for senior employees to retire. In 2007, via a tripartite agreement between the social partners, the policy shifted towards retention of senior employees. Similar examples can be found in other European countries.
Some countries report that, despite this trend, the situation of older workers has become a secondary issue again, due to the impact of the current crisis over the younger age cohorts. In many cases, policy discussions are mainly focused on youth employment, as in Spain, under the effects of the financial crisis, and Sweden, where youth unemployment is high and has received more attention in media and in policy debates.
Active age management policies and the potential of guidance
Due to the changing perspective in valuing older workers, policies on active age management have emerged across Europe. Despite the fact that countries have different understanding of active age management policies and, frequently, not even a concrete definition (as reported for Estonia) some policy measures associated with active age management could be identified.
The literature review on the 12 selected Member States revealed wide variation in the extent to which they implemented policies specifically targeting older workers, and the degree to which they supported older workers through broader employment policies open to all age groups. These instruments could be categorised as legislative, financial, and communication/awareness raising measures, as presented in Table 4.
A first step that most countries seem to be making is increasing the age for retirement, through the adoption of legislative reforms. Increasing retirement age is an instrumental step in the process of active ageing which carries little implication for career support systems that can cover the life-span of workers. Literature shows a strong concern that the current debate goes only in the direction of simply raising the age of entitlement to pensions (as has been the general trend across Europe) without contemplating the consequences (Maltby, 2011).
Accompanying measures are needed to help workers throughout their career, including financial initiatives for employers to hire older workers and to keep older employees active during their (extended) career.
Guidance can play an important role in providing career development support to workers of all ages. Given its adaptability to context (workplace, training, employment service) and the fact that it possesses a holistic set of theories and methodologies, guidance can promote the autonomous management of someone’s career at any point in life, whatever their situation.
Guidance methodologies can enable individuals to access reliable information about the labour market, learning opportunities and validation services. They also can help people identify their own skills, competences and aspiration to make meaningful career choices, to have better-quality working lives and to be more productive up to current pension age.
Guidance can enable individuals to increase dramatically their productive contribution to the economy and society, while maintaining relatively high levels of job satisfaction. Nevertheless, despite its potential, guidance is rarely mentioned in national active ageing strategies, legislation, or financial frameworks.