Across the globe the 21 st century has witnessed the growing phenomenon of ageing and its impact on social and work life. The percentage of people over 60 years of age in the world is growing rapidly, with one report estimating that by mid-century the number of people over 60 will triple to nearly two billion people (Coughlin, 2010). In Africa, for example, “the number of people over 60 living in Africa” will increase by 400 percent to 200 million people by 2050 – “with profound implications for society, influencing people’s social, economic and political lives” (http://www.global-ageing.eu/agafrica.html). Similar research agendas have focused on detailing the potential problems and challenges of aging in Arab countries (Abdulrahim, Ajrouch, Jammal, & Antonucci, 2012), Latin America (Wong, Peláez, Palloni, & Markides, 2006), Asia (Hermalin, 2001), Australasia (McCormack, 2000), Europe (Davoudi, Wishardt, & Strange, 2010) and North America (Duvergne Smith, 2011). This global phenomenon has led one commentator to refer to ageing as “disruptive demographics” (Coughlin, 2010).
The growth of aging populations in North America, Europe and other so-called developed countries have led researchers to study the impact of age on such things as stereotypes of the aging worker (Hedge et al., 2006; Brought et al., 2011), workplace efficiency, career development, retirement policies, experience (Kanfer and Ackerman 2004), training needs, etc (Ilmarinen, 2006). In other regions of the world the issue of aging is often viewed from a different perspective. In Latin America, for example, is has been predicted that, due to outstanding health issues, aging “will not proceed along known paths already followed by more developed countries” (Palloni & McEniry, 2007).
Asian cultures usually value ageing more than Western societies (Leung, 2000). However, in Western organisational contexts, ambivalence concerning the value of ageing employees is common. On one hand, it is recognised that `old age’ may bring valuable expertise and wisdom, so-called crystallised intelligence (Kanfer and Ackerman 2004). While on the other hand, stereotypes related to older employees include being viewed as less productive, less healthy and less able to cope with changes (Hedge et al., 2006; Brought et al., 2011). In either case the association of age with innovation and change is problematic. Experience and wisdom, although perceived positively can nonetheless suggest sedimented and established qualities rather than an ability to respond in new and innovative ways. Although recent research has shown that the assumption of a general decline with age is simplistic and incorrect, stereotypical assumptions concerning an older worker’s abilities and job performance continue to influence Western organisations’ understandings of age (Brought et al., 2011). In any event, innovation and change is not normally viewed as a potential quality of older employees. Issues usually focus on compensating for a supposed loss of skills and abilities through such things as training and reevaluations of the types of work that aging employees are expected to undertake (Ilmarinen, 2001).
The growing interest in research into aging and work raises questions about a range of issues linked to the supposed dichotomy between the needs of organisations to retain organisational memory and experience while balancing concerns about the supposed loss of skills of older workers. Western societies emphasise the need for workers to stay in work life longer, but ageing employees are frequently the main victims of downsizing or restructuring (Buyens et al., 2009). Nonetheless, in the context of specific labour shortages, it has, in recent years, been recognised that something must be done to stop older employees from leaving the work place and to raise the employment level of ageing employees, particularly in European countries (Henkens et al., 2008; Walker, 2005; Parry & Tyson, 2009,). In short, the focus has been on different kinds of management practices of older workforce, including leadership and human resource management that consider age.
Throughout the various recent debates on ageing and work, little or no attention has been focused on such issues as the discursive nature of age and aging – which clearly differs across regions of the world, and has implications not simply for organisational managers but also for the fundamental human aspects of being understood as aged or aging. Nor has the role of age and work been adequately accounted for in issues of discriminatory practices and theories of discrimination and intersectionality (Bendl, Bleijenbergh, Henttonen, & Mills, 2014).
The discourse of aging and work is growing and opens a highly relevant theoretical space for discussion of the issues involved. In this special issue we encourage reflections on this space from a number of directions.
Abdulrahim, Sawsan, Ajrouch, Kristine J., Jammal, Alice, & Antonucci, Toni C. (2012). Survey Methods and Aging Research in an Arab Sociocultural Context—A Case Study from Beirut, Lebanon.The Journals of Gerentology: Series B, 67(6), 775-782.
Bendl, Regine, Bleijenbergh, Inge, Henttonen, Elina, & Mills, Albert J. (Eds.). (2014).The Oxford Handbook of Diversity in Organizations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Buyens, D., Van Dijk, H., Dewilde T. and De Vos, A. (2009), “The ageing workforce: perceptions of career ending”, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 2, 102-117.
Brough, P., Johnson, G., Drummond, S. & Timms, C. 2011. Comparisons of cognitive ability and job attitudes of older and younger workers. Equality Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal 30 ( 2), 105-126.
Coughlin, Joseph F. (2010). Blended Futures of Again & Busines Innovation. Retrieved 30 Oct, 2012
Davoudi, Simin, Wishardt, Michelle, & Strange, Ian. (2010). The ageing of Europe: Demographic scenarios of Europe's futures.Futures, 42(8), 794-803.
Duvergne Smith, Nancy. (2011). Disruptive Demographics: Aging and Innovation.Slice of MIT.April 7. Retrieved 30 October, 2012
Hedge, J.W., Borman, W.C. and Lammlein, S.E. (2006), The Ageing Workforce. Realities, Myths, and Implications for Organisations, American Psychological Association, Washington.
Henkens K., Remery C. & Chippers J. (2008) Shortage in ageing labour market: an analysis of employers' behaviour. The International Journal of Human Resource Management 19 (7), 1314-1329.
Hermalin, Albert I. (2001). Ageing in Asia: Facing the Crossroads.Hallym International Journal of Aging, 3(2), 133-167.
Ilmarinen, J. (2001), “Ageing employees”, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 58, No. 8, pp. 546.
Ilmarinen, J. (2006). Towards a longer worklife – Ageing and the quality of worklife in the European Union. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki.
Kanfer, R., and Ackerman, P.L. (2004). “Aging, adult development, and work motivation”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 29, pp. 440-458.
McCormack, John. (2000). Looking back and moving forward? Ageing in Australia 2000.Ageing and Society, 20(05), 623-631.
Palloni, Alberto, & McEniry, Mary. (2007). Aging and Health Status of Elderly in Latin America and the Caribbean: Preliminary Findings.Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerentology, 22(3), 263-285.
Parry, E. and Tyson, S. (2009), “Organizational reactions to UK age discrimination legislation”, Employee Relations, Vol. 31, No. 5, 471-488.
Walker, A. (2005), “The Emergence of Age Management in Europe”, International Journal of Organisational Behaviour, Vol. 10, No.1, pp. 685-697.
Wong, Rebeca, Peláez, Martha, Palloni, Alberto, & Markides, Kyriakos. (2006). Journal of Aging Health.Aging and Health, 18(2), 157-179.
Suitable topics include but are not limited to:
- Aging and work as a discursive set of ideas and practices
- Organisational challenges and potentialities of an ageing ‘workforce’
- Aging employees and knowledge work
- Gender and aging at work
- Employment markets, innovation and ageing
- Organisational entrepreneurship and older workforces
- Cross-cultural knowledge on ageing and work
- Management of the ageing workforce
- Cross-cultural issues of ageing
Submission of manuscripts: 7 May, 2014