Responses to an Ageing Workforce: Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom

Andreas Cebulla 1  and David Wilkinson 2
  • 1 South Australian Centre for Economic Studies, University of Adelaide, Australia
  • 2 Department of Social Science, University College London


Background: An ageing workforce is a challenge for businesses that are increasingly expected to adapt workplaces to enable employees to remain in work longer. Emerging evidence highlights employer practices to attract or retain older workers. This paper explores employers’ motivations for introducing measures to accommodate an older workforce in three European case study countries. Objectives: The objective is to illustrate and understand different approaches to, and stages in, adjusting workplaces to accommodate an ageing workforce. Methods/Approach: The study combines case studies, including site visits and interviews, with expert consultations. Results: The research finds marked between-country differences, with United Kingdom case studies highlighting a strong emphasis on age-neutral practices shaped by legislation; age-confident practices in Germany resulting from collaborative arrangement between employers and trades unions (with legislation permissive towards age discrimination); business in Spain remaining relatively inactive, despite evidence of people expecting to work longer in life. Conclusions: Diverging employer motivations and responses to the challenge of an ageing workforce risk a multi-speed Europe in age-confident workplace innovation. A concerted effort that draws on the multiple factors that motivate initiative would be required to achieve good working conditions for older workers across Europe.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • 1. AARP (2011), “AARP Best Employers for Workers Over 50 Award – International Best Practice Summaries”, available at: (8 February 2014)

  • 2. Age United Kingdom (2011), “Grey Matters – A Survey of Ageism across Europe: EU Briefing and Policy Recommendations”, Age United Kingdom, London.

  • 3. Barrett, B., Sargeant, M. (2015), “Working in the United Kingdom without a Default Retirement Age: Health, Safety, and the Oldest Workers”, Industrial Law Journal, Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 75-100.

  • 4. Bauknecht, J., Cebulla, A. (2016), “Extending Working Lives – Sticks and Carrots to Get the Older Unemployed Back into Employment”, Intereconomics, Vol. 51, No. 3, pp. 134-139.

  • 5. Bauknecht, J., Gerling, V., Hess, M. (2016), “Extending Working Lives through Flexible Pension Schemes”, Working Paper, Institut für Gerontologie an der TU Dortmund.

  • 6. Bispinck, R., Schulten, T. (2000), “Alliance for Jobs: Is Germany following the path of competitive corporatism?”, WSI Discussion Paper No. 84, Institute of Economic and Social Research, Hans Böckler Foundation, Düsseldorf.

  • 7. Bussolo, M., Koettl, J., Sinnott, E. (2015), “Golden Aging: Prospects for Healthy, Active, and Prosperous Aging in Europe and Central Asia”, World Bank, Washington DC.

  • 8. Cedefop (2015), “Increasing the value of age: Guidance in employers’ age management strategies”, Research Paper No. 44, Cedefop, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 9. CIPD (2012), “Managing a healthy ageing workforce: A national business imperative”, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, London.

  • 10. CIPD (2016), “Creating longer, more fulfilling working lives: Employer practice in five European countries”, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, London.

  • 11. Conen, W., van Dalen, H., Henkens, K., Schippers, J. (2011), “Activating Senior Potential in Ageing Europe: an Employers’ Perspective”, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, The Hague.

  • 12. Conen, W. S., Henkens, K., Schippers, J. (2012), “Employers’ attitudes and actions towards the extension of working lives in Europe”, International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 33, No. 6, pp. 648-665.

  • 13. DWP (2013), “Employer case studies: Employing older workers for an effective multigenerational workforce”, Department for Work and Pensions, London.

  • 14. ENEI (2013), “ENEI Awards 2013. Celebrating success; inspiring others”, Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion, London.

  • 15. Esping-Andersen, G. (1990), Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

  • 16. ETU (2014), “Wages and collective bargaining during the European economic crisis: Developments in European manufacturing industry”, European Trade Union, Brussels.

  • 17. European Commission (2012), “Discrimination in the EU in 2012”, Special Eurobarometer 393, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 18. European Commission (2014), “Population ageing in Europe: Facts, implications and policies. Outcomes of EU-funded research”, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2014.

  • 19. European Commission (2015a), “The 2015 Ageing Report: Economic and budgetary projections for the 28 EU Member States (2013-2060)”, European Economy 2015, No. 3, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 20. European Commission (2015b), “Discrimination in the EU in 2015”, Special Eurobarometer 437, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 21. Eurofound (2011), “Company initiatives for workers with care responsibilities for disabled children or adults”, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 22. Eurofound (2013a), “ERM annual report 2013: Monitoring and managing restructuring in the 21st century”, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 23. Eurofound (2013b), “Role of Governments and Social Partners in Keeping Older Workers in the Labour Market”, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 24. Eurostat (2015), “People in the EU: who are we and how do we live?”, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 25. Fernández Rodríguez, C. J., Ibáñez Rojo, R., Martínez Lucio, M. (2016), “Austerity and collective bargaining in Spain: The political and dysfunctional nature of neoliberal deregulation”, European Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 267-280.

  • 26. Flynn, M., Upchurch, M., Muller-Camen, M., Schroder, H. (2012), “Trade union responses to ageing workforces in the United Kingdom and Germany”, Human Relations, Vol. 66, No. 1, pp. 45-64.

  • 27. Frerichs, F., Lindley, R., Aleksandrowicz, P., Baldauf, B., Galloway, S. (2011) “Integrated Final Report on Organisational Case Studies and Good Practice in Age-management”, EU7th Research Framework Programme, Activating senior potential in ageing Europe, WP4 – Case Studies in Labour Organisations - Deliverable 4.3, European Commission, Brussels.

  • 28. Fuertes, V., Egdell, V., McQuaid, R. (2013) “Extending working lives: age management in SMEs”, Employee Relations, Vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 272-293.

  • 29. Gal, J. (2010), “Is there an extended family of Mediterranean welfare states?”, Journal of European Social Policy, Vol. 20, No. 4, pp. 283-300.

  • 30. Great Place to Work (2013), “The 100 Best Workplaces in Europe 2013”, available at: (8 February 2014).

  • 31. Hess, M. (2017), “Rising Preferred Retirement Age in Europe: Are Europe’s Future Pensioners Adapting to Pension System Reforms?”, Journal of Aging & Social Policy, Vol. 29, No. 3, pp. 245-261.

  • 32. IMF (2011), “Regional Economic Outlook, Europe: Strengthening the Recovery”, International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC.

  • 33. Karamessini, M. (2007), “The Southern European social model: Changes and continuities in recent decades”, Discussion Paper No. 174, International Institute for Labour Studies, Geneva.

  • 34. Köhler, H., Calleja Jiménez, J. P. (2013), Trade Unions in Spain: Organisation, Environment, Challenges, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Berlin.

  • 35. Mahlmann, M. (2015), “Country report, Non-discrimination, Germany”, European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination, Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

  • 36. McNair, S., Flynn, M. (2005), “The age dimension of employment practices: employer case studies”, Department for Trade and Industry Employment Relations Research Series No. 42, London: DTI.

  • 37. Moen, P., Kojola, E., Schaefers, K. (2017), “Organizational Change around an Older Workforce”, The Gerontologist, Vol. 57, No. 5, pp. 847-856.

  • 38. Molina, O., Miguélez, F. (2013), “From negotiation to imposition: Social dialogue in austerity times in Spain”, International Labour Organisation Working Paper No. 51, Geneva.

  • 39. Munduate, L., García, A., Pender, E., Elgoibar, P., Medina, F. (2015), “Employee Representatives in Spain. Which are the Perceptions and Expectations by Employers?”, in Euwema, M., Munduate, L., Elgoibar, P., Pender, E., Belén García, A. (Eds.), Promoting Social Dialogue in European Organizations. Human Resources Management and Constructive Conflict Management, Springer, Cham Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London, pp. 147-162.

  • 40. OECD (2011), “Helping Older Workers Find and Retain Jobs”, in Pensions at a Glance 2011: Retirement-income Systems in OECD and G20 Countries, OECD Publishing, Paris, pp. 67-79.

  • 41. OECD (2015), Pensions at a Glance 2015: OECD and G20 indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris.

  • 42. OECD (2016), “Ageing and Employment Policies - Statistics on average effective age of retirement”, available at: (2 October 2018).

  • 43. Oude Mulders, J., Henkens, K., Schippers, J. (2016), “European Top Managers’ Age-Related Workplace Norms and Their Organizations’ Recruitment and Retention Practices Regarding Older Workers”, The Gerontologist, Vol. 57, No. 5, pp. 857-866.

  • 44. People Management (2016), “Over 53s need not apply”, People Management, pp. 7.

  • 45. Pew Research Center (2014), “Attitudes about Aging: A Global Perspective”, Pew Research Center, available at: (6 April 2017).

  • 46. Riach, P. A., Rich, J. (2007), “An Experimental Investigation of Age Discrimination in the Spanish Labour Market”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 2654, Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn.

  • 47. Riach, P. A. (2015), “A field experiment investigating age discrimination in four European labour markets”, International Review of Applied Economics, Vol. 29, No. 5, pp. 608-619.

  • 48. Serra, J. A. (2013), “Spain: The role of governments and social partners in keeping older workers in the labour market”, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Observatory: EurWORK, Dublin.

  • 49. TUC (2015), “Workers’ voice in corporate governance: A European perspective”, Trades Union Congress, Economic Report Series 2013, London.

  • 50. UNECE (2012), “Active Ageing”, UNECE Policy Brief on Ageing, No. 13, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, New York/Geneva.

  • 51. van Dalen, H. P., Henkens, K., Wang, M. (2015), “Recharging or Retiring Older Workers? Uncovering the Age-Based Strategies of European Employers”, The Gerontologist, Vol. 55, No. 5, pp. 814-824.

  • 52. van den Heuvel, W. J. A., van Santvoort, M. M. (2011), “Experienced discrimination amongst European old citizens”, European Journal of Ageing, Vol. 8, No. 4, pp. 291-299.

  • 53. Wright, D. (2015), “How have employment transitions for older workers in Germany and the United Kingdom changed?”, SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 782-2015, Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Berlin.


Journal + Issues