There is a need for an expanded perspective on age management that draws attention to the interaction between employers and employees in order to understand organisational capability for a prolonged working life. The way in which workplaces are managed is of central importance to people’s ability and willingness to continue to work. At the individual level, the timing of retirement depends on the individual’s health, job satisfaction, competence, social inclusion and family life, as well as pension benefits. These are conclusions from previous studies on age management, and they indicate that the individual’s decision to stay in a workplace and ability to work longer depends on a complex interaction between the person’s preferences and health as well as social networks and work environment (see e.g. Brooke & Taylor, 2005; Furunes, Mykletun & Solem, 2011).

Previous studies and perspectives on age management have also noted that managers’ conceptions of older workers and employers’ interests in retaining older employees are of great importance for when an employee retire. Central to such assumptions is the managers’ views of older people’s knowledge and know-how, conceptions of older employees’ ability to develop as well as normative conceptions of what is an appropriate retirement age. For example, Henkens (2005) has shown that managers often assume that older people find it difficult to learn new things and accept organisational changes. Another study shows that employers have interest in and motivation to implement organisational changes to adapt the conditions for older workers and also invest in developing skills for older workers if the organisation benefits financially (Brooke & Taylor, 2005). However, according to Taylor (2006), employers often prefer their employees to retire early, and thus they do not perceive organisational changes and measures to extend working life to be justified.

We argue that in addition to employers’ and managers’ conceptions, motives and interests, the interaction between managers’ and employees’ needs, to a greater extent, to be improved in order to increase the understanding of extended working life. Our studies show that what happens in the interaction between managers and employees long before the traditional retirement age is crucial for an extended working life. This interaction affects the length of the career and not just the employee’s retirement decision just before retirement. More specifically, our studies show that the HR routines – for example, career and development routines, pay routines, internal recruitment and assessment routines – used by operational managers in interaction with employees, at any point in their careers, set the stage for extended working life or retirement at the formal age (Liff & Wikström, forthcoming).

An interactional perspective on age management could also be used as a framework to investigate three types of organisational changes that could support prolonged working life:

1. The importance of changing what is considered to be the appropriate age for retirement. There are studies in the age management literature showing that the most important factors in the workplace that influence the retirement decision occur long before the traditional retirement age approaches, which is also shown by studies using the life course perspective (Moulaert & Biggs, 2012). Wainwright et al. (2018) point out that there are many challenges for the employer, both in adapting the workplace for the ageing workforce, but also in convincing older employees to stay longer than the formal retirement age. Furthermore, the individual’s retirement decision is considered a private matter by the employee, which is respected by the employer. It can be assumed that this attitude and perception among employees and employers have diminished the opportunities to understand what would actually be necessary to change a pension decision near the planned retirement day, and that a deviation from what is considered appropriate requires a special argument in the workplace.

2. The importance of employers understanding and valuing older workers tacit knowledge. Employers’ perceptions of knowledge form a strong underlying mechanism behind the managers’ negative notion of older workers and how managers manage and organise an ageing workforce (Wikström et al., 2018). The older workers’ knowledge is often not valued from a business perspective because it has the characteristic of being a tacit knowledge. The knowledge of the younger workforce is associated with knowledge of new ways of working and new technology. Thus, from the employers’ perspective the latter form of knowledge is fundamental to increase efficiency and productivity. Based on this logic, we can see that employers’ negative conceptions of an older workforce are constructed through their knowledge view. It can be assumed that if employers were willing to let older workers participate in the same education as younger ones even after the age of 60, then it would demonstrate the relevance of tacit knowledge both to younger colleagues and managers. The separation of young people with high formal knowledge and older people with great tacit knowledge would thus decrease, and probably increase the value of the older people’s knowledge and the value of them remaining longer in working life.

3. The importance of adapted HR routines during working life. Previous studies (Brooke & Taylor, 2005; Taylor, Earl & McLouglin, 2016) have also shown that human resource management can have a strong impact on the retirement decisions of older employees. Although operational managers appear to be active in the application of HR routines, there is a passivity in their use of the routines because the underlying norms and perceptions embedded in the routines are taken for granted, and are not discussed or reviewed; therefore, they are not actively adapted to the needs of different employees in order to promote age diversity in organisations. Instead of changes in organisations that would extend working life, one can see that norms and taking for granted the HR routines used by employers and operational managers both stabilises and “predetermines” the timing of retirement to the normal age for retirement (Wikström & Liff, 2019; Liff & Wikström, Forthcoming). Mechanisms for rational and appropriate behaviour are embedded in the main institutional routines that affect a long-term or a “predetermined” working life.

In conclusion, perspectives on age management, in other words, need to be expanded not only to emphasise the importance of working conditions and the physical and mental working environment for extended working life, but also to include how employers interact with their employees through the use of different personnel management routines. An interactive perspective on age management can contribute to a deeper understanding of dynamic interaction patterns in the workplace and their importance for an extended working life. More specifically, here we have highlighted how the norm for a suitable retirement age affects the interaction between operational managers and employees. We have also highlighted that the interaction between employers/managers and employees expresses what the older workforce can contribute to the organisation, which in turn is based on the organisation’s definition and evaluation of knowledge and know-how in the organisation. A third key issue that we have highlighted is how operational managers interact with employees through their use of HR routines in recruitment, promotion and salary setting, affecting older people’s opportunities for a long and successful career.

References

Brooke, L. & Taylor, P. (2005). Older workers and employment: Managing age relations. Ageing and Society, 25(3), 415–429. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0144686x05003466

Furunes, T., Mykletun, R. & Solem, P. (2011). Age management in the public sector in Norway: exploring managers’ decision latitude. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 22, 1232–1247. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2011.559096

Henkens, K. (2005). Stereotyping older workers and retirement: the managers' point of view. Canadian Journal on Aging, 24(4), 353–366. https://doi.org/10.1353/cja.2006.0011

Liff, R. & Wikström, E. Prolonged or preserved working life? Intra-organisational institutions embedded in human resource routines. Ageing and Society, in press.

Moulaert, T. & Biggs, S. (2012). International and European policy on work and retirement: reinventing critical perspectives on active ageing and mature subjectivity. Human Relations 66(1), 23–43. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726711435180

Taylor, P., Earl, C. & McLoughlin, C. (2016). Australian employer usage of the practice of offering reduced working hours to workers close to retirement: Extent and determinants. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 35(2), E13–E17. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajag.12253

Wainwright, D., Crawford, J., Loretto, W., Phillipson, C., Robinson, M., Shepherd, S., Vickerstaff, S. & Weyman, A. (2018). Extending working life and the management of change. Is the workplace ready for the ageing worker? Ageing and Society, pp. 1–23.

Wikström, E., Eriksson, E., Karamehmedovic, L. & Liff, R. (2018). Knowledge retention and age management – senior employees’ experiences in a Swedish multinational company. Journal of Knowledge Management, 22(7), 1510–1526. https://doi.org/10.1108/jkm-09-2017-0442

Wikström, E., & Liff, R. (2019). Chefens betydelse för ett längre arbetsliv (The importance of the manager for a longer working life), Underlagsrapport till Delegationen för senior arbetskraft, rapport 10, S2018:10.