Job quality and Scotland’s ageing workforce

By Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser, Scotland.

The global pandemic has affected the lives of us all. We are beginning to see some of the longer-term impacts materialising, even though there is no end in sight yet. A speeding up of digital transformation, a permanent shift to more flexible work and disproportionate effects on female workers or youth unemployment – these are just some of the issues that have shot up the policy agenda recently.

There are, however, trends that were on the horizon before the pandemic sagtruck, which too will require policy and practitioner responses. Chiefly amongst these is the UK’s and Scotland’s ageing population. According to the latest statistics[1], over the 10 years to mid-2028 there are projected to be 38,100 more people of pensionable age in Scotland than today, with the number projected to increase by 240,300 in the 25 years to mid-2043.

To put this in perspective, in mid-1911, only 5% of Scotland’s population was aged 65 and over – today that figure is 19%. In comparison, the percentage of people aged 0 to 19 has shrunk from 42% to 21% of Scotland’s population during this same time period.

The projections, based on assumptions of births and deaths as well as migration, suggest that by 2043 Scotland will have 23% of people of pensionable age, with the proportion of people working age dropping from 65% to 62% - and that’s already taking into account planned increases in pension age.

It is of course true that similar estimates can be seen for much of Europe and for the rest of the UK too. However, due to our current demographic make-up, Scotland is projected to have slower population growth than all the other UK countries: 2.5% between mid-2018 and mid-2043, compared with 3.7% for Wales, 5.7% for Northern Ireland and 10.3% for England. This should make it a public policy priority.

There are a range of factors at play and several implications, but the focus of this short blog is job quality of older workers. The above-described trends mean that not only is it likely that people will work into later age than is common today, it may also be desirable – both for them and for the country as a whole. Put simply, an increased proportion of older people will translate into an increased proportion of older workers across Scotland.

We already know from previous research that job quality is not universal – there are inequalities and trade-offs between elements of it. There are differences we can observe by salary, occupation, gender, disability or age. Following on from my previous blog on disability and fair work, this piece focuses on job quality exclusively for those in the 55+ age bracket.

Working Lives Scotland – published by CIPD Scotland in June 2020 - adapted the CIPD Good Work Index to fit the Scottish Fair Work Framework. Using the same dataset but limiting the analysis to the 55+ age sub-sample allows us to provide a snapshot of job quality of older workers in Scotland. There are some interesting findings across all five fair work dimensions – some in line with previous findings and some that will require further analysis. Here is a quick summary:

Respect

  • Older workers report their mental health as significantly better than average, with 74% describing their mental health as good, compared to 54% for workers under 55.
  • 20% of older employees feel their work impacts negatively on their mental health (compared to 36% for those under 55), with 22% reporting negative impacts on their physical health.
  • Older workers are reporting slightly poorer flexible work availability than younger ones.

Security

  • Data shows correlation between job satisfaction and age and (to a slightly weaker extent) life satisfaction and age.
  • Higher proportions of workers in the 55+ age bracket are employed part-time and self-employed. Older workers report lower access to employee benefits.
  • Older employees are reporting higher levels of job security as well as a lower likelihood to quit. They do, however, report lower levels of confidence in the labour market.

Opportunity

  • Only 22% of older employees believe their job offers good prospects for career advancement, while 53% believe their job offers good opportunities to develop their skills.
  • Reported career advancement opportunities are, understandably, lower for older workers than younger workers.
  • The lowest skills development opportunities are reported by those in the 45-54 age bracket.

Fulfilment

  • 31% of older employees report their workload as too high in a normal week.
  • Most older employees report having adequate resources, equipment and training to do their jobs. They also report higher than average levels of significant job autonomy.
  • Older employees are more likely to feel they are in meaningful jobs and are motivated by their organisation’s purpose.

Effective voice

  • 21% of older employees say they have no voice channel at work at all.
  • One-to-one meetings with managers and team meetings are the most commonly-reported forms, available to 58% and 46% of older employees respectively.
  • Almost two-fifths of older employees (39%) rate their managers poorly on how they allow employees or employee representatives to influence final decisions.

Many of these findings mirror the ones in our main Working Lives Scotland report, but there are some interesting differences. For example, we see more positive findings around mental health for older workers. There are also signs that older employees are more positive about their jobs in terms of satisfaction or the subjective feelings experienced at work. We have also identified higher levels of job autonomy – most likely linked to length of tenure and experience.

On the other hand, we also see older workers report poorer access to employee benefits. Slightly lower reported levels of flexible work availability corroborate research that suggests older workers see flexible arrangements as something for younger employees. Furthermore, with lower confidence in the labour market, recovering from a surge in unemployment may well be more difficult for older employees.

Employers and policymakers across Scotland need to prepare for an ageing workforce – we know that for certain. An analysis of the differences between the different elements of job quality should be at the heart of this work. We hope to keep contributing to this debate

[1] https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/files//statistics/rgar/2019/rgar-2019.pdf

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