University of Limerick
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A grey area : an investigation of organisational decision-maker attitudes toward 'older' workers

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posted on 2022-09-02, 10:42 authored by JEAN MC CARTHYJEAN MC CARTHY
Workforce ageing has been labelled the defining social issue of the 21st century. Projections of diminishing workforces and declining prosperity have led to the realisation that ‘older workers’ are required to remain in the labour market for longer. Yet, mounting evidence suggests the categorisation of workers as ‘older’ has a negative impact on their employability. How governments and organisations will negotiate this new work environment requires an understanding of the ways in which ‘older workers’ are perceived in organisations. This thesis therefore examines the attitudes of organisational decision-makers (i.e. those involved in the process of recruiting, selecting, training, and developing workers in organisations) toward ‘older workers’. In doing so, it draws on survey data from 243 organisational decision-makers across industries in Ireland in order to: first, clarify who they consider ‘older workers’ to be; second, to examine their attitudes toward these ‘older workers’; and, finally, to explore what specific individual and organisational factors appear to influence both how they define ‘older workers’, and their (positive or negative) attitudes toward them. The findings reveal that a worker is considered an ‘older worker’ at an average age of between 52 and 53 calendar years, which appears to be explained by both individual and organisational influences; workplace age demographics, the age of the decision-maker, and to some extent, industry type, play a role. Aside from calendar years, however, decision-makers adopt a number of differing approaches in defining an ‘older worker’, suggesting the need for a reconceptualisation of the term. Furthermore, decision-maker attitudes toward these ‘older workers’ are found to be largely negative in nature. Interestingly, organisational factors seem to have little impact on these attitudes. Rather, the findings show that the individual characteristics of decision-makers are significantly more influential. Specifically, the decision-makers’ age, gender, position, and to a degree, position tenure, emerge as unique contributors to their attitudes towards ‘older workers’.Where policy and practice aimed at increasing employment for ‘older workers’, directed at those aged 55 or 65, tend to focus on the organisational barriers that may inhibit age inclusiveness, the findings suggest the need for more innovative ways in which to address both the age variable, and the nature of ageist attitudes in organisations, in this ‘defining’ era of workforce ageing.



  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Heraty, Noreen

Second supervisor

Cross, Christine





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