Futuribles Journal n° 314

Entreprises, travail - Population

How Efficient Are Older Workers? The "Capacities" of Older Workers

France, like Europe, is getting older. This is not a recent phenomenon but the situation is being aggravated as the baby-boom generation arrives in ever increasing numbers among the ranks of the retired population, whose life-expectancy is growing, while the generations following behind are less numerous and their pension contributions are no longer enough to ensure that the system is in balance. One of the solutions proposed as a way of making up this financial shortfall would be to raise the retirement age or, better still, to extend the years of working life. Yet in fact the trend, at least in France, is instead towards stopping work early, before even the legal pension age.
One of the reasons for early retirement is that the labour market does not encourage the employment of older workers, who are sometimes considered to be less efficient than younger people. Catherine Delgoulet, Michel Millanvoye and Serge Volkoff have been examining the capacities of older workers for a long time. With evidence from many studies undertaken in France and other countries on a range of job categories, they present here the realities of the situation for ageing workers and challenge certain widely held notions.
In particular, they stress that performance on the job "does not inevitably decline with age and it is rather the method of measuring performance that needs to be questioned". They also show that this performance much depends on working conditions, as some situations create greater difficulties for older workers than others (shift work, painful positions, etc.). They emphasize above all that older workers are often quite aware of the problems that come with advancing years and compensate for them in practice, either individually or in the collective organization of their work. This adjustment shows that it is possible to extend working life, provided (of course) that there is a genuine effort to make suitable arrangements for work and training throughout life and to derive maximum benefit from the professional experience of older workers.

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