Accueil » 50-3 ( 1995) » Vieillissement, emploi, préretraite : les facteurs socio-économiques influant sur la gestion de la main-d'oeuvre vieillissante

Vieillissement, emploi, préretraite : les facteurs socio-économiques influant sur la gestion de la main-d'oeuvre vieillissante

Diane Bellemare, Lise Poulin Simon et Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay


Cet article présente les résultats d'une étude portant sur l'analyse des pratiques de gestion d'emploi des travailleuses et des travailleurs vieillissants en regard de la situation économique à laquelle sont confrontées les entreprises depuis quelques années. H traite des pratiques dominantes axées sur l'exclusion de la main-d'oeuvre vieillissante et met en lumière quatre facteurs permettant de mieux comprendre la stratégie d'éviction encore largement utilisée. Il présente en outre quelques pratiques novatrices mises de l'avant par les entreprises à l'égard de leur main-d'oeuvre vieillissante.


Because of the aging of the Canadian population, the accelerated aging of the workforce is a reality in the Canadian labour market. In such a context, firms that try to keep their workforce young will have some difficulty in doing so, and some may not succeed. Studies show that Canadian firms presently tend to get rid of their aging workforce, and this is generally done through early retirement policies. Some studies have indicated that it may be time for socio-economic actors to modify their strategics in the context of an aging population and workforce.

Our study seeks to identify innovative practices which firms have developed in the present economic context. As we found that few firms actually had developed innovative practices, and that very few try to retain their aging workers, we also explain what economic factors may have influenced firms to adopt the common early retirement strategy. The research is based on case studies carried out in six firms, firms that were considered to be performing well, and that have been solidly established for many years. Four of the firms are from the communications sector, one is a public health institution and the last is from the clothing industry. Five of the six are unionized and count more than 200 employees. Average age in these firms is older than the average age in the Canadian workforce, which indicates that these firms should be concerned with the aging of their workforces. Data were collected through two methods. General data on the workers, their careers, their employment situations, and their aspirations regarding retirement and the end of their working life were collected through individual questionnaires distributed to the workers in all of the firms. We also conducted interviews with human resources managers and union representatives in each of the firms, and studied firms' documentation on retirement policies, strategic planning, collective agreements, etc.

This completed the information on the firms' strategics, the reasons for these, the perceptions of management as regards the expeetations of workers, and union strategics on these issues. As we wanted to identify the firms' practices concerning aging workers, we used a typology of practices including the following: career management (planning and development, labour mobility); adaptation of the working environment (working time arrangements, work adjustment or changes in tasks, wage adjustments and marginal benefits); exclusion of aging workers.

As can be seen, the first two categories are strategics which aim at maintaining workers in the firm, while the last does the opposite. Our results indicate that there are few strategics adopted to maintain aging workers in employment. Measures aiming at early retirement are still more frequent even though the six firms have an aging workforce. Some managers and union representatives indicated that they were starting to consider the issue, but few innovative strategics were observed, and in most cases these were not used explicitly to manage aging, but rather to solve different problems such as labour shortages or high turnover. In any case, there were some firms which did some career planning and tried to introduce continuous training and multiskilling, elements which can permit aging workers' to stay longer in employment. Some firms did adopt some new working time arrangements, and these do correspond to workers' expeetations as was revealed by our survey. Arrangements to work part-time before retirement, and a leave without pay for educational purposes are amongst the examples observed. However, part-time or progressive retirement is offered in only one firm, the public health institution, and only on an ad hoc basis.

How can we explain why Canadian firms still tend to exclude aging workers when the economic and demographic trends indicate that they should start considering strategics to keep these workers? Our research indicates four possible explanations. First, the macroeconomic situation and policies of recent years created financial pressures which led firms to adopt strategics of minimization of labour costs. This meant reductions in personnel, use of temporary workers and subcontracting, as well as early retirement options.

The second factor influencing human resources management strategics concerning aging workers is the labour market situation. The chronic surplus of labour in the Canadian labour market may have led firms to use early retirement as a way to rejuvenate their workforce. This chronic surplus, composed largely of skilled youth and women, facilitates this rejuvenation process. Without such a chronic surplus, it can be hypothesized that firms would have to find ways to keep their aging workers, as is often the case in countries with close to full employment.

The employment System and work organization are the third factor influencing firms' practices. New product and technological innovation strategics are often accompanied by organizational changes such as a reduction in management, multiskilling and similar new production concepts. In such a context, firms often view their aging workers as less adaptable. Given the elements present in the collective agreement concerning work rules and worker mobility, it may be easier for a firm to do away with older workers rather than try to integrate them in the new organization.

As Canadian firms do not have a strong tradition of training and recycling human resources, the exclusion of older workers is often seen as an easier solution, all the more so since firms may worry about recuperating their investment in the training of older workers.

Finally the workers' expectations constitute the last element favouring the exclusion of aging workers. Firms' practices have surely influenced workers' expectations and there is therefore some interaction between the two. Nevertheless, workers are inclined to view themselves as "old" or "aging" at an earlier age than was previously the case, as was indicated in our survey. Public and private policies regarding early retirement have brought many workers to see retirement as a positive situation, a period of rest which is due to them; of course this is the case only for those who have good pension plans, but early retirement policies over recent years have tended to make this situation financially advantageous for those who retired. This in turn created expectations in the minds of other aging workers. In our survey, some 55.8% of respondents indicated they would like to leave their job before the normal retirement age, with financial compensation.

In conclusion, even if human resources management practices should obviously adapt to the demographic changes which are inevitable, a séries of factors, amongst which the macroeconomic situation and policies, the labour market situation, the changes in work organization, and workers' expectations, tend to favour the strategy of exclusion of aging workers.