The significance of management in regards to employability

Young businessman writes at his desk with piles of paper.  (Benjamin  Thorn/
Employers must adjust their enterprise to older employees. (Benjamin Thorn/

Society is growing ever older and employees stay longer in the work process. Businesses must adjust to those changes if they do not want to lose valuable workforce. A survey led by the Center for Disability and Integration at the University of St-Gallen has shown that an effective and well-directed management can contribute to maintain employability well into higher age.

The Center for Disability and Integration (CDI), based at the University of St-Gallen, is conducting research in the field of integration of disabled people and the achievement of an inclusive society. They are predicting that the work market in Germany will change in a sustainable way in the coming years.

Aging society

According to surveys, the Federal Statistical Office of Germany (2009) predicts that the working age population will decrease from about 50 million people in 2010 to approximately 36 million people in 2060.
Meanwhile, the average age of the population will also increase, which in turn means that a much higher number of older people will be unemployed. "These demographic changes represent significant challenges for enterprises", say Stephen Böhm, director at the CDI, and his research colleagues.

To work longer and in a more balanced way

Many concerns prefer to employ younger employees. According to a survey from 2001, more than 50% of all concerns in Germany counted no employee aged over fifty years old. However, due to the increasing retirement age as well as changes in the demographic composition of society, this practice will not be able sustainable and companies will have to turn to older employees.

Consequently, the maintenance of employability for as long as possible will be of central importance. A comprehensive survey examined the influence of personnel management on the development of employability. Significant differences became apparent between concerns that pursued a global concept including health promotion, ergonomic measures and improved management behavior, those that offered only individual measures of health promotion and those that undertook no such measures.

Silhouette of a man in front of circles with the word "development". (Gerd Altmann/
Through changing patterns, employees can remain longer in the working place. (Gerd Altmann/

Adjustments for people over 50

Although these measures did not seem to have a significant impact on employees aged about 45 years old, the global concept did make a notable difference for those aged 53 years old. Without such measures, employability decreases rapidly, whereas individual health management measures give even worse results than a combination of individual health promotion and ergonomic measures as well as a suitable leadership.

The research concludes that a good leadership is the only significant factor leading to an improvement of the employability between 50 and 61 years old.

Age-appropriate work positions

However, what should such an age-appropriate management look like? First, senior staff should, through goal-setting discussions, proceed to assess in a realistic and unprejudiced way the work capacity of older employees, and, if necessary, also address performance limitations.

Senior staff should assess performance in a fair manner as well as express their appreciation for what has been achieved. It can also be useful to consider particular generational characteristics and adjust one's own communication behaviour accordingly. For example, older employees usually prefer a direct and personal conversation over electronic means of communication.

Also, age-appropriate patterns of employment, such as adapting the tasks in the course of time, can contribute to sustain the motivation and capacity of older employees. To achieve this, flexible working arrangements are needed, which allow for example for part-time employment or so-called "sabbaticals" (paid or non-paid leave for a longer period of time).


Active dialogues can not only contribute to avoid more general difficulties but also ease tensions between different age groups.

Senior staff can also deliberately force the creation of mixed-age teams. Finally, further education measures can also benefit to older employees, allowing them to adjust to the constantly changing demands. With the help of such measures, senior staff can contribute substantially to sustaining employability for older employees.


Texte: M. Plattner/ - 02/2012
Traduction: MyH - 11/2012