Ageing Workforces – how do they differ around the world?

24 October 2022 By Victoria Tomlinson

Ageing Workforces – how do they differ around the world? image

I recently did a trawl of academics who are looking at ageing workforces and was delighted to find – and then meet – Prof Matt Flynn from Hull University. And I made it a priority to join his seminar last month with Singapore University of Social Sciences looking at this global issue.

Here I sum up his key points – it was a great talk, thanks Matt! – particularly looking at this from the employer perspective, though Matt covered societal and strategic political issues.

Ageing Workforces: a global challenge

Matt started by looking at the worldwide challenge of populations living longer, families getting smaller and the shortage of people to care for older people. He summed it up by saying, “It is no longer sustainable for people to retire early”. Hear hear! The challenge is how we use the skills of the older generation without restricting younger ones.

As Matt discussed all this, it hit me again. These issues are globally known and understood and yet time and again I give workforce talks and HR and other teams are awestruck by the facts – and there is still very little discussion on all this in the HR world.

Matt then looked at who are ‘older workers’ and what help or support employers, government and others could/should give them to improve society. He defined these as

  • Olderpreneurs – people who start a business later in life (he referenced Colonel Sanders of KFC!  I didn’t know he was 62 before he started franchising KFC)
  • Older managers with good general skills and a positive view of work. They have skills that are wanted and needed, but often find it difficult to get jobs – mostly because of perceived or real ageism
  • Employees who are hanging on.  They tend to think, “I’ve been doing this job for a long time. Things have changed and I could do with some training – but don’t want to ask for it because they will say no and I’ll look out of touch. I can get on well enough, I’ll just keep going”
  • People on zero hour contracts and the self-employed
  • Jobless or displaced – these are not just people with low levels of skills but also highly-skilled.  They may have been made redundant and want another job or retired and realise they need more money. In many ways these are the people I was seeing that led me to start Next-Up – there is a whole body of people aged 50+ with so much to give and no idea how to use those skills. For money or even on a voluntary basis

Matt then shared how states respond across the world, defining these as

  • Regulatory states such as the UK, US, Australia where equality and inclusiveness is promoted and the business case made for diversity
  • Developmentalist states such as Japan and Singapore where targets are set and subsidies given for employing under-employed groups
  • Inclusive corporatists such as the EU where there are collective agreements on age and work

I was particularly interested when Matt covered how different countries respond to essentially the same challenge – a growing ageing population.  We have developed an online platform to help employees pre-retirement and are talking to corporates about how it could help with many of these issues. Despite very different cultures and views on age, it is extraordinary how similar most of this is across the world.


  • Light touch approach to employment regulation
  • SME and family firm dominance
  • Traditional Chinese employment culture (eg Iron Rice Bowl)
  • Low level of employment of older women
  • Mandatory Retirement Fund
  • Practical guidelines on eliminating age discrimination
  • NO age discrimination regulations


I have taken these words from the slide that Matt showed – however, a lot of this is not matching what I see in the UK. Despite the massive skills crisis, I can only think of one or two employers who are actively creating alternatives to cliff edge retirement

  • Recruit, retrain, remain
  • Mixed incentives for organisations to support older workers
  • Collective and individual approaches to Social Activation
  • Mid-Life Career Review (the theory of this is excellent, but it is almost entirely financially based, rather than looking at planning for a 100-year life, including what you are going to do in retirement.  I have also not seen wide knowledge of it, let alone wide take-up)
How Italy responds to a growing ageing population


  • Embedded into employment law in Italy
  • Managers close to retirement can convert from full-time to part-time
  • Part-time devoted to succession planning and mentoring younger workers into the role
  • Twist on the ‘Early Collusion toward Retirement’ – I need to follow up with Matt as to what this means!
  • WIN for older worker: can reduce work time in advance of full retirement
  • WIN for younger workforce: access to support in bedding into a new role
  • WIN for the employer: Retaining employees longer


  • Permanent employment and age-based pay and remuneration systems
  • BUT 34% of workers are irregular
  • Keiretsu networks and company-based unions
  • Shukko and Tenseki job transitions
  • Government subsidies for older workforce retention
  • Government support for older jobseekers via Silver Human Resource Centers

Matt discussed the intergenerational conflict, which has been raised by a number of the corporates we are talking to at the moment – one said they will be a five or six generation workforce in the near future.

Matt posed a few questions under the head of ‘Lump of labour theory or fallacy?’ which I think he felt were issues that employers need to watch out for

  • Are there career paths for younger workers?
  • Do younger workers feel they have a say over their work?
  • Are they involved equally in ‘reinventing’ an active ageing workforce?

He also looked at the interdependence of older and younger people

  • Transfer upward eg pensions and eldercare
  • Transfer downward eg financial support and grandparenting
  • Transfer of skills and knowledge
  • Mentoring
  • Intergenerational work teams

All of this was really interesting and a great summary on such a wide-ranging topic (my apologies Matt if I have not fully captured the points you were making, some of this was new to me also!).

As I am writing this up, the thing that strikes me – and depresses me – is so much of this is in danger of being paternalistic and patronising.  I hate ‘Silver Human Resources Centers’ and subsidies for employing older employees.  People aged 50+ are the same mix of people as those under 50, with skills and ambitions like the rest of the workforce. They may have a few more aches and pains, but people in their 60s and 70s are generally not old dears to be patted on the head and give employers a bit more money to offer them a job. What worries me about this is the danger that employers recruit older people to have ‘someone’ doing a job and take the bonus of a subsidy. Not really thinking through how they make the job work for their employees so everyone is getting the best out of each other.

What comes to mind, is some years ago I went on a CBI tour of fish processing companies in Grimsby. As far as I saw, all the fish processing jobs were filled by Eastern Europeans and honestly, the conditions were awful. Freezing cold, scaling fish over ice, poor lighting.  And silence. I don’t think anyone would have wanted their son or daughter to have worked there.  There was no sense of team spirit and chat, there were minimal breaks (from memory it was two ten-minute coffee breaks and 30 minutes for lunch) and it was ‘head down and keep working’. No wonder employers now struggle to recruit local people to these places and jobs; they have not been designed to make them great places to work. Employers knew they had a steady stream of people who would graft all hours in miserable conditions and not complain. I worry if we start putting subsidies behind employing older generations, a different version of this will happen. 

Instead, employers really need to understand the skills that an older generation has – a lot of which are around people and relationships since they haven’t grown up on their mobile phones.  These days, people in their 50s, 60s, 70s are generally fit and healthy with great experience and are/can be a huge asset to their employers.  Look at Queen Elizabeth II who was working three days before she died at the age of 96. Yes she had a stick, but her brain was still sharp as a button.

Having talked to so many corporates, my vision for the future of older employees is that progressive employers will

  • Have age as part of their diversity pillar – and analyse data by 50+ generation
  • Offer skills development and training for 50+ as much as they do for younger employees
  • Help employees think and plan for their long-term futures – ideas, skills, as well as finances
  • Use the skills of the 50+ generation for ESG initiatives – especially tapping into their experience with people and ability to build relationships
  • Stay in touch with and create community with former employees – using the skills of this generation for mentoring, projects, community ambassadors and more

We have to rethink how we see people as they age – they have so much more to offer than is generally recognised. They are an opportunity far more than they are a problem.

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Written by Victoria Tomlinson

Victoria Tomlinson is chief executive and founder of Next-Up. Next-Up supports employers with a range of services for directors, partners and employees to help them understand the impact of retirement on mental health and create a plan to use their skills and experience in new ways to ensure wellbeing. A key part of our role is to inspire people with ideas and contacts, beyond traditional expectations. A former director of EY, she is an international speaker on unretirement, personal branding and using LinkedIn strategically as well as on leadership and women on boards. She mentors chief executives and directors, start-up businesses and ex-offenders. Victoria is Honorary Teaching Fellow at Lancaster University and chaired an advisory board for University of Leeds.