Special Briefing – November 2023
The ageing of the EU population requires to put ageing issues at the core of employment policies and, more broadly, the labour market. The aim of our 2023 AGE Barometer is to get to grips with these issues and reflect together on current and future challenges and solutions.
To mark the 6th anniversary of the proclamation and signature of the European Pillar of Social Rights, we publish our new AGE Barometer monitoring the situation of older people in the labour market. This 4th edition clearly shows the need to promote employment in old age and fight age discrimination if we want to reach the target of having at least 78% of the population aged between 20 and 64 in employment by 2030, as stated in the European Pillar Action Plan, released in March 2021. Given the ageing of the population, and therefore of the European workforce, older people might be expected to be among the target groups of this Action Plan. This is unfortunately not the case.
Together with our members, we have collected in this Barometer good practices from 19 Member States. It also provides key findings and recommendations to inspire Member States and the EU to build a Europe for all ages.
We need to empower older people in the EU labour market
Although the employment rate for 55-64-year-olds is rising slowly each year, it currently stands at 62.5%. A figure that does not give visibility to the difficult situation of certain groups that are disadvantaged on the labour market, such as older women, whose employment rate is much lower. The sustainability of careers cannot be based solely on the goodwill of workers, nor on incentives or obligations for employees to work longer. Major investments must be made in training, mobility and tailor-made working conditions.
In that context, AGE calls for age equality plans to be adopted in every sector to better value the potential and experience of older workers. Measures about career development, consultations between employers and employees, fight against age discrimination at work, flexible working arrangements and workplaces adaptations would allow a better understanding and therefore retention of the older workforce.
The rate of long-term unemployment among 55-64-year-olds is much higher than for other age groups. This should raise the alarm about the need to discuss prevention and specific support for older jobseekers. In the context of labour shortages in some sectors, public employment services are challenged to promote the value of older workers among employers and to build the employability of jobseekers. AGE calls for a person-centred approach that allows for personalised action plans, and a specific outplacement system for older jobseekers.
In our Barometer, we also remind the need for a more flexible life course approach in the labour market. It is, first of all, a way to recognise the diversity of older people’s life experiences, but also an opportunity to respond to people’s will to work, learn, rest, care or retrain, at any age. It also means providing better support to older workers who wish to continue working, in adjusting working conditions for instance, supporting the search for work, raising awareness of the value and experience of older workers among employers.
The workplace must be free from age discrimination
AGE welcomes the Employment Equality Directive (2000/78/EC) and the laws implementing it at EU Member State level. However, the directive allows the possibility to justify direct age discrimination, as long as there is a legitimate aim. This implies a wide range of exceptions in national legislation that discriminate a part of the population based on age, e.g. through the mandatory retirement age. The Barometer recalls that age limits are discriminatory and call for a revision of the directive in that sense.
Ageist practices prevail on the labour market. This is true during the recruitment process, but also when in access to training or project opportunities for instance. We recall that the capacity to perform a job should be based on an individual’s assessment rather than age-based assumptions. To put an end to age discrimination at work, AGE recommends raising awareness on ageism in the labour market, through campaigns and training for employers and employees for instance. In particular, the Barometer calls for an intersectional approach, which is essential to better target the challenges faced by certain groups who are disadvantaged on the labour market, such as older women.
It is a prejudice to state that promoting older people’s employment would have an adverse impact on youth employment. On the contrary, it seems that when employment rates of older workers are high, employment rates of younger workers are also high. Cooperation between generations benefits companies and the labour market in several ways. At the company level, a diverse workforce is generally more productive and more prone to innovation because it brings together different talents and experiences.
The workplace must be adapted to all ages
Health and safety at work are key elements for sustainable and quality working life. The current EU Strategic Framework on occupational safety and health highlights demographic change and the ageing of the workforce as an element that “requires continuous reflection and response”. It also refers to the Green Paper on Ageing as a starting point for a debate that includes a discussion on the conditions for the participation of older workers in the labour market. Indeed, today’s working environment is not designed and thought through for long-term careers and work in older age. In that sense, AGE recommends to better include ageing to Strategies on occupational safety and health and the involvement of older workers in the design and implementation.
In the case of mental health, there is poor information or consideration of the specific challenges faced by older workers. In its Barometer, AGE reminds that ageist stereotypes and the stress due to a lack of working arrangements for a better work-life balance can have a significant impact on older people’s self-esteem and mental health.
Finally, new technologies and digitalisation raise several challenges for some people such as a clear risk of exclusion. In the case of older people, some may be less skilled digitally because of a limited access to education and lifelong learning due to a lack of life-course approach and ageist considerations (both structural and internalised). Improving digital literacy and technology accessibility and providing adequate support is vital to enable people of all ages to gain new skills at work or embrace career change.
Policy Officer on Employment and European Parliament Liaison