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Call for Papers: 'Rethinking Retirement: Changing realities for older workers and employee relations?'

Special issue call for papers from Employee Relations

Call for papers: Special issue Employee Relations

‘Rethinking Retirement: Changing realities for older workers and employee relations?’

Guest Editors: 

Wendy Loretto (University of Edinburgh) [email protected]
Sarah Vickerstaff (University of Kent) [email protected]
David Lain (University of Brighton) [email protected]

Prospects for older workers (most often defined as those aged 50 and above) in the UK appear to have improved considerably in recent years. In the past employers openly favoured younger workers (Taylor and Walker 1994; Loretto and White 2006) and early retirement was a common tool of human resource management; today employers are signalling different intentions through membership of organisations such as the Employers Forum on Age. Policy has also sought to support older workers. Age Discrimination Legislation was introduced in 2006 and the default retirement age of 65 was removed in 2011, with the vast majority of employees now legally protected from forced retirement on the basis of age. In this context, employees are delaying labour market exit, and people over state pension age are a growing group in the UK labour market.

However, the picture of a future in which older people increasingly choose to continue working, supported in their choices by organisations, is simplistic and incomplete. Motivations to continue working are likely to be complex and extremely varied (Vickerstaff et al. 2008; Flynn and McNair, 2009). For some, work will be primarily a financial decision, because paths to early retirement via final salary pensions have now been closed off, investment returns have been poor, and/or state pension ages have increased. Longitudinal research from the US has shown that sharp declines in wealth, as experienced during financial down-turns, have a strong influence on delaying retirement (Munnell, 2004). For other older people continued employment is likely to be for a broader range of reasons, including social and mentoring aspects of work (Inceoglu et al., 2011). We need to better understand how and why motivations to work vary between older people, if we are to effectively manage older workers and maintain good employee relations.

From the employer perspective, some positive indications are evident. Older people have been less affected by job loss than in previous recessions. This may relate, in part, to a better understanding of the costs of getting rid of older workers, in both financial and experience terms (Beck, 2011). At the same time, however, some negative consequences for older workers may have been delayed; older women, for example, disproportionately work in public sector social and care service roles and are likely to bear the brunt of spending cuts. From an employee relations perspective, the changing economic and legislative situation has consequences for trade unions, in their attempts to ensure employees’ transitions into retirement are managed fairly.

More broadly, there is a need for empirical work on whether employers’ good intentions translate into employment opportunities for older people. There has been a strong business case for employing older people since the 2000s, but all too often opportunities have been disproportionately located in lower-level service roles (Lain, 2012; Lissenburgh and Smeaton, 2003). Some positive change may be influenced by age discrimination legislation (Lain, 2012); however, as yet, the impact is not entirely clear (Flynn, 2010; Parry and Tyson, 2009).

Discrimination legislation alone is, in any case, going to be insufficient for retaining valued older workers, given the strong preference for flexiblility between work and the rest of life among many older people (Vickerstaff et al. 2008). The future of employment for older people therefore depends not only on the extent to which employers will allow continued employment, but also whether they encourage it through the provision of good quality desirable jobs that can fit around older people’s other preferences and commitments.

The Special Issue aims to increase our understanding of UK employment of older people and how this is changing. The special issue will address issues raised by the ESRC Rethinking Retirement seminar series organised by the guest editors (see Papers might explore:

• The range of employment opportunities made available to older people by employers;
• How HRM practices encourage or discourage employment in older age;
• How older employees have fared in the context of the economic down-turn;
• The impact of policy changes on the employment of older people (including discrimination legislation, pensions reforms etc);
• The current role of trade unions in protecting older workers and ensuring retirement is managed fairly;
• The motivation to continue working, and how this varies between, or is specific to, certain groups of older people;
• How the quality of employment, and working conditions, influence employment;
• The availability of flexible work options for older workers;
• How the UK situation compares with that of other countries.

This is not an exhaustive list, and the editors welcome discussion of initial ideas for articles by e-mail. The deadline for papers is 30th April 2012.

Submissions to this special issue should be made using ScholarOne Manuscripts, the online submission and peer review system. Registration and access is available at


Beck, V. (2011) Employers’ use of older workers in the recession. Paper for the ESRC Seminar Series “Rethinking Retirement”, Manchester, 4 November 2011.
Flynn, M. (2010) The United Kingdom government's 'business case' approach to the regulation of retirement, Ageing and Society 30: 421-443.
Flynn, M. and McNair, S. (2009) What would persuade older people to stay longer in work?. In A. Chiva and J. Manthorpe (eds) Older Workers in Europe. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Inceoglu, I., Segers, J. and Bartram, D. (2011), Age-related differences in work motivation, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.2011.02035.x
Lain, D. (2012) Working past 65 in the UK and USA: Segregation into ‘Lopaq’ occupations?, Work, Employment and Society, 26 (1).
Lissenburgh, S. and Smeaton, D. (2003) Employment transitions of older workers: The role of flexible employment in maintaining labour market participation and promoting job quality. Bristol: Policy Press.
Loretto W and White P (2006) Employment of older workers: employers’ attitudes, policies and practices. Human Resource Management Journal 16(3): 313-330.
Munnell, A. Triest, R. and Jivan, N (2004), How Do Pensions Affect Expected and Actual Retirement Ages? Working paper CRR WP 2004-27. Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Parry, E. and Tyson, S. (2009) Organizational reactions to UK age discrimination legislation, Employee Relations 31(5): 471-488.
Taylor P and Walker A (1994) The ageing workforce: employers’ attitudes towards older workers, Work, Employment and Society 8(4): 569-91.
Vickerstaff, S. Loretto, W. Billings, J. Brown, P. Mitton, L. Parkin, T. and White, P. (2008) Encouraging labour market activity among 60-64 year olds. Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No 531. Norwich: HMSO.