Employers’ attitudes toward aging workers in Finland

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In this blog, we’ll look at employers’ attitudes toward aging workers in Finland. 

As the population of Finland is aging, the labor force includes a larger share of older workers than before. This also means that plenty of older workers are on the job market looking for a new job.

Many of us have probably seen articles in the media in which older workers report problems finding new jobs. They suggest the Finnish labor market has a severe problem with age discrimination. These opinions have come to light mostly in the form of different surveys (eg. here).

Despite the increased scrutiny, we haven’t really known much about employers’ attitudes toward aging workers in Finland. Now, however, we have a new report on that. 

In this blog post, we first go over the survey and its results. Then we finish off by talking especially about aging female workers. We discuss how employers can take them into consideration and become menopause-friendly workplaces. 

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The survey by the Finnish Centre for Pensions

The Finnish Centre for Pensions recently published the results of a survey they had conducted around this issue. 

In the survey, they examined three different topics. Firstly, they examined the attitudes of Finnish employers toward workers over 55 years of age. Secondly, they examined what type of support employers in Finland offer in order for older workers to maintain their work ability until it’s time to take their old-age pension. Thirdly, they wanted to know what preconceptions might prevent employers from hiring an older worker. 

The Centre directed the survey to private and public sector employers in March and April 2021. Each of the three topics was probed with several different questions. 

Statistics Finland did the actual survey work. They received 1 693 responses to the survey. The respondents were those managing individual company locations or they could be in charge of HR. In the analysis, they weighted the responses so that they are representative. 

In the report, they examine the responses based on office size, employer sector, and industry. 

Employers’ attitudes towards aging workers in Finland

The Finnish Centre for Pensions asked employers how they view workers over 55 years of age. They asked the employers to evaluate aging workers by 10 different characteristics. The employers had to evaluate whether they thought aging workers were better, the same, or worse than workers in general in those 10 characteristics. 

In four of those characteristics, over 90 % of employers consider aging workers to be better or the same as workers in general. These characteristics include their independence, ability to take initiative in work tasks, trustworthiness, ability to solve problems, and skills and know-how. 

In some aspects, the views of larger employers were more pessimistic than employers in general. Larger employers are those with 250 employees or more in a single location. They didn’t give as high marks for the trustworthiness of older workers as employers in general did. The same goes for their ability to solve problems, and their skills and know-how.

Employers in general also had a positive view of older employees’ cooperation, motivation, and management skills. Over 85 % of employers thought that in these, aging workers are better or as good as employees in general. 

A significant portion of employers thinks that aging workers are worse than employees in general in their health and work ability (27 % of employers), ability to learn new things (40 %), and ability to adjust to changes (42 %). 

Supporting aging workers to continue their careers

Another part of the survey examined what type of support employers give to their aging workers allowing them to continue working until their old-age pension. At first, employers were asked whether they support this goal. Then, they were asked to clarify what type of support they actually give. 

The researchers identified three different types of support. One type promotes continuous learning at work. Another includes ways to modify tasks and the third has to do with preparation for possible accommodations aging employees may require. 

Over 90 % of employers stated that they support their employees in the continuous upkeep and development of their skills. 

There are different ways to modify jobs and tasks in a way that allows those with differing capabilities to continue working. These ways include shortening working hours or transferring a worker to another position that suits their abilities better. Over 80 % of employers said that they are at least somewhat willing to make accommodations. Shortening working hours was more popular as an action than a transfer to a different position. 

Plans and preparations for changes and accommodations the aging of workers may bring were on a less secure footing. Only 25 % of employers fully agreed that they have taken aging into consideration in their management and leadership practices. 

Over 80 %, however, agreed at least somewhat that they had structures in place that support employees’ work ability and prevent problems. Written answers show, though, that with this employers refer to the legally mandated occupational healthcare services. The implication is that such services would take care of any potential issues. 

Reasons not to hire aging workers

The third area covered in the survey had to do with the reasons employers might not hire aging workers. In addition to asking about their attitude toward hiring older workers in general, they also asked for reasons not to. They wanted to know what employers see as risks when contemplating hiring older workers.

Three potential risks employers were asked to consider had to do with health and work ability. 

Only less than 10 % of employers said risks related to absences or early pensions due to sickness are a significant hindrance to hiring older workers. Less than half said that they are somewhat of a concern. 

Instead of absences or early retirements, employers are concerned about other types of health-related problems. At least 65 % of employers saw these types of issues as at least somewhat concerning.

Less than half of employers thought that concerns related to low productivity are at least somewhat of a hindrance to hiring aging workers. A slightly bigger portion of employers was concerned about higher wages associated with older workers.

A concern that clearly stood out in the survey was concern over outdated skills and know-how. Over 60 % of employers saw this concern as preventing them from hiring older workers at least to some extent. 

Menopause-friendly workplaces

This survey didn’t especially focus on women and how workplaces could and should take into consideration their aging at the workplace. I argue, however, this is a discussion we should have.

According to Statistics Finland, in 2019 about 2 750 000 people were of working age (15-74 years of age) in Finland. Of these, 1 320 000 were women. 

Out of working-age women, 23 % were in the age where they were menopausal or perimenopausal (so about 45-51). Of them, about 90 % were working at the time. They make up about 11 % of the whole workforce.

About 267 000 working-age women were in the postmenopausal phase of their lives (55-64 in age) in 2019. 72.4 % of them were still working in 2019. This means about 20 % of working-age women. 

Of all working-age women, 43 % were in the perimenopausal, menopausal, or post-menopausal phase of their lives. This is about 20 % of the whole workforce in Finland in 2019!

Considering that one-fifth of the workforce is currently dealing with a phenomenon that directly affects how they feel and thus their ability to work, we talk very little about it in Finland. 

I haven’t seen a single employer declare themselves to be menopause-friendly. This is very different from what is happening outside Finland where being menopause-friendly is a part of the diversity, equity, and inclusion work of employers. In the UK, employers can even get accredited as being menopause-friendly

What is a menopause-friendly workplace?

Menopause is a natural biological phenomenon that affects all aging women. Because it involves similarly large biological changes as puberty, it naturally affects women’s well-being at work. 

I haven’t seen Finnish studies on how menopause affects women’s work and their participation in the labor market, but there are such studies elsewhere (eg. in the UK). 

It is clear from these that effectively managing the menopause transition at workplaces is not only right but also economically beneficial. How can workplaces then do this?

Outside of Finland, there are plenty of resources to help employers become menopause-friendly. Here, I have translated some of this guidance to better fit conditions in Finland: 

Menopause-friendly workplaces have practices relating to 

  • working hours and remote work:
    • If your workplace requires permission to work remotely, accept menopause-related conditions as justification. 
    • The same goes for flexible working hours and moving to work part-time.
  • the physical work location/station:
    • providing access to handheld fans or tabletop fans;
    • having the possibility to adjust heating locally;
    • not work desk hopping;
    • providing access to a space to relax/cool off.
  • workplace culture and occupational healthcare:
    • taking menopause-related healthcare needs into consideration when designing occupational healthcare services;
    • making sure occupational healthcare services and materials address menopause; 
    • making sure the gender equity plan takes into consideration issues related to menopause and ensuring that there is no discrimination related to these issues;
    • making sure employer-issued work clothes are made of breathable fabrics and allow layering.
  • meetings
    • holding meetings in rooms where the temperature can be adjusted;
    • providing remote access to those suffering from menopause symptoms;
    • starting meetings by pointing out where the nearest toilets are and how one can find drinking water.
  • HR
    • HR has a named contact point for menopause issues & work;
    • ensuring practices related to menopause-related absences exist; and
    • ensuring managers and supervisors are trained to take into account age-related issues.  

I believe these are a good starting point for making Finnish workplaces better suited for the 20 % of the workforce currently dealing with menopause-related issues!

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