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Strategies for improved work longevity from an employer- and employee perspective

Research project One of the most topical concerns of ageing societies is how to facilitate the realization of a sustainable, long and healthy working life. But little is still known about how to tailor work to better meet the needs of more than already privileged groups of employees, as is knowledge concerning the complex and life-long processes through which individual work life trajectories are formed.

By assembling a multi-disciplinary team of researchers, we propose a research agenda that enables explorations of the complex interactions between welfare state provisions, labour market push factors, organizational work adjustments and employees’ motivation and health.

Head of project

Project overview

Project period:

2021-11-01 2027-10-31

Research area

Sociology

External funding

Forte

Project description

By utilizing survey-, register and life course data, as well as interview and observational data the research program is organised around three key research questions.

  1. How do life course experiences (employment trajectories and exposure to various work conditions) affect possibilities for improved work longevity?
  2. To what extent do Swedish employers utilize measures to facilitate, stimulate and motivate employees to work longevity?
  3. With a special focus on physically and cognitively demanding jobs, how can individual and workplace-oriented adjustments, strategies and interventions enhance work longevity?

By setting up a collaborative network consisting of researchers and stakeholders outside of academia (e.g., representatives from public and private organisations, unions and NGOs), the program will establish a forum for dialogue, learning and solutions to real-time problems. The network is a key to craft synergies within the program, grasp the complexity of prolonged working lives and ensure direct contributions to practice. By doing so, our research will contribute with new insights of how we can facilitate a more sustainable and long working life.

Work Packages

The program consists of 5 different but closely related work packages in which various aspects of work longevity are studied. The WPs will be launched in varying phases of the program and results will be continuously evaluated by the team members. An added value with the program is that planned activities, such as new data collections, may be designed, adjusted and improved in a collaborative manner and by experiences and results made in already running projects.

WP 1: Employees’ and employers’ age-management practices for a prolonged working life: retirement preferences, work adjustments and digitalisation

Relatively little attention has been paid to how age-management, through work adjustments, affect employers and employees’ attitudes to and strategies for a prolonged and sustainable working life in later ages. Scholars have called for actions at national and organizational levels to sustain older employees' motivation and ability to continue working (Truxillo et al. 2015). Hence, more knowledge is needed concerning potential organizational differences in attitudes
towards older employees. For instance, studies have shown that while some organizations tend to view older employees’ skills and expertise as an important asset worth retaining, others suggest that they are often stereotyped as, e.g., less productive and motivated (Henkens 2005, OECD 2017). Building on previous findings of older employees’ motivation and intentions to work in late age (Stattin & Bengs 2021, Jonsson et al. 2021), this project will explore the national prevalence of employment enhancing practices, and examine how these interact with individual predictors to influence retirement preferences?

A topical case in age management is related to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has imposed an accelerated transition to digital work for both employees and employers. This shift can be understood as part of an opportunity structure for both employers and employees where digital work can act as a means for a prolonged working life through flexibility and new work tasks. However, previous studies identify older people as a risk group for exclusion when workplaces, and society in general, are digitised (Hunsaker & Hargittai 2018). Thus, digitalization can narrow the gateways for a prolonged working life. Therefore, as a second aim, this project will explore employers’ and employees’ strategies of age management and digitalisation, specifically whether digital solutions can act as a means for a prolonged working life.

WP 2: Workplace-dialogue for a sustainable working life

Employers are responsible for promoting a good environment, preventing risks of ill health and adjust work tasks based on employees' mental and physical conditions. Unfortunately, employers often lack knowledge and strategies for how to act to prevent and rehabilitate work-related ill health (Danielsson 2017, Fagerlind 2018). Small organisations can be particularly vulnerable since the structure for the work environment management is less developed (Hagqvist 2020). Prior research has shown that a dialogue-based workplace intervention can promote return to work for employees on sick leave (Sennehed 2018). By facilitating a dialogue between the employer and the employee, both parts could gain a deeper understanding about the core reasons for sick leave and contribute to a positive re-orientation towards successful return to work instead of an endpoint of employment (Strömbäck 2020). In addition, the workplace-dialogue enhances employers' capacity to act in the complex and multifaceted return to work process (Eskilsson 2020). Still, little is known of how a workplace-dialogue and adjustments could be used as early preventive measures that enable a sustainable work situation, e.g. for older employees. In this work package, we explore how a workplace-dialogue could be used by employers to support employees with early signs of ill health and enable a continued sustainable work situation.

In addition to the fact that employers lack knowledge and strategies for how to act (Danielsson 2017, Fagerlind 2018), stress related ill health and long-term sick leave among managers are also increasing (Swedish Social Insurance Agency 2020). High demands and the limitless work imply that employers need to be able to lead themselves, and this can be part of the explanation for the increased ill health. Therefore, as a second aim, this study will investigate employers’ perceived stress and its significance for the work environment management.

WP 3: Assessments and adjustments in occupations with high physical workload and identifying factors that promote healthy work longevity

It is well-known that high occupational physical strain increases the risk of disability benefits due to musculoskeletal disorders (Järvholm et al. 2014). There may also be an increased risk of encountering cardiovascular disease and premature death, referred to as the physical activity paradox since physical activity at leisure time is beneficial, but the evidence of harm from physical activity at work is still insufficient (Coenen et al. 2020). Increased knowledge on these issues is crucial for the formulation of recommendations regarding physical strain at work, which should be particularly important to apply in employees with high age, who have a lower total physical capacity. In a previous study we found that “adjustment” from high to lower physically strenuous jobs delayed the age of retirement (Söderberg 2021). In addition, prior studies have shown huge variation of the individual physical strain within the same occupation, indicating the need for individual assessments to find out a suitable workload that limits the risk of harm (Stevens et al. 2021). Such evaluations preferably include both musculoskeletal and cardiovascular workload. The latter will strongly depend on the fitness of the worker (Stevens et al. 2021). In this work package, we explore what assessments and adjustments employees with physically demanding jobs need to enable a sustainable working life. More specifically, we ask; what needs and adaptation opportunities are there for older employees with physically demanding work? Which are the success factors for a sustainable working life until retirement in physically demanding works? How does a high physical workload influence age at retirement and risk of diseases and mortality?

WP 4: The impact of job crafting interventions on person-job fit, work motivation, and physical and psychological health in older employees

Job crafting interventions to improve self-regulatory strategies and increase person-job fit have shown great promise (Oprea et al. 2019). Although older employees are more likely to benefit from job crafting than younger employees (Kooij et al. 2017, 2020), previous studies mainly include young- and middle-aged employees, between-person designs, and relatively short follow-ups. This is problematic because job crafting offers older employees a tool by which to age successfully at work by allowing them to continuously adjust their job to intrapersonal changes that are part of the aging process. In this project, we explore the effectiveness of job crafting interventions in older employees by employing a longitudinal measurement burst design to capture both between- and within-person processes on different time scales. More specifically, we will examine short- and long-term effects of job crafting interventions on person-job fit, work motivation, and physical and psychological health; and the mediated effect of job crafting on employee outcomes through person-job fit.

WP 5: The impact of strenuous and poor work conditions, employment continuity and skill development for prolonged working life

While previous studies demonstrate how poor working conditions, employment precariousness, poor-health, gender, and human capital strongly influence the length of working life (see e.g., Axelrad & Mcnamara 2018, Larsen & Pedersen 2017), few has examined how these processes develops over time and affect work longevity. Drawing upon a life course perspective it is likely that the gateways for an extended working life are narrowed long before people start to make active decisions about their own retirement. Thus, knowledge is needed in terms of when disadvantages start, the persistence over time as well as within group differences. In this sub-project we examine labour market disadvantages over a substantial part of the working life to better understand how conditions during the life course contribute to shape the opportunities and constraints for a prolonged working life. More specifically, we ask: To what extent is long-term exposure to strenuous and poor work conditions related to length of working life? What is the role of employment continuity and career mobility in working life for the length of working life between men and women respectively? To what extent are within group differences in human capital and skill development during the life course associated with prolonged working life? Such knowledge can show why some employees are more prone to work later in life than others, identify significant work life events for early and late retirement, and thus, provide important tools for how to create a long, healthy and sustainable working life.

External funding