The Older Worker
The workplace for older adults is becoming a dynamic space rather than a unidirectional journey leading to retirement. Work life for older adults is situated in a dynamic pattern of periods of active employment, temporary disengagement from the workplace, and reentry into the same or a new career. The new older worker is developing a third stage of working life, the period beyond the traditional retirement age and final disengagement from the work role. The third age of life has been associated with choice, personal fulfillment, and liberation (Soulsby 2000). Using this idea, we posit a third stage of working life where older workers are active agents negotiating various roles within the workspace. The actions, depending on life circumstances, might include the decision to remain in, retire from, or return to periods of part-time, full-time, or part-season work. Thus, although workplaces are searching for ways to increase productivity, older workers are asking for increased career development opportunities and yet are still neglected by most workplaces. This publication discusses some of the misconceptions about older workers and the reality of a more active and involved older adult work force.
There Is an Age When One Becomes an Older Worker: The Age Myth
There appears to be considerable variation in the concept of older worker as defined by age alone. The term older worker extends from 40 to 75 years of age. When workers at age 40 are referred to as older workers, age is linked to beginning thoughts about retirement decisions (Rosen and Jerdee 1986), the decline in training opportunities (Cooke 1995), the dispelling of myths about the productivity of an aging work force (Kaeter 1995a), or the need for older workers to stay on the job to mentor younger workers (McShulskis 1997b). At the other end of the age continuum, older workers are identified as those in need of preretirement education and planning (Evans, Ekerdt, and Bosse 1985) or those considering gradual work reduction or seeking training for alternative careers (Salomon 1982). The concept of older worker encompasses different ages depending on the purpose of the organization as well as the needs of the worker. Age alone may not be a defining characteristic of an older worker. Perhaps becoming an older worker is more situational than chronological.
Retirement Is the Final Stage of Working Life: The Retirement Myth
Retirement for future older workers is becoming an outdated notion. From a societal perspective, the issue has changed from assisting older workers to retire and use leisure time to retaining and recruiting older workers. Recruitment and retention (Levine 1988) become a key policy issue to satisfy the increasing demands for productivity, worker shortages, and retaining corporate knowledge (Crampton 1996; Kinderlan 1998; National Alliance of Business 1996; Ohio Bureau of Employment Services 1996).
From a national policy perspective, increasing...