More Older Workers Are Staying in the Workforce in Ireland

By Katie Nadworny January 17, 2020
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​In 2005, Ciarán McKinney moved home to Ireland and took out a 25-year mortgage that won't be paid off until he is 70. He's 60 now and has no interest in retiring anytime soon. 

"I have zero interest in retiring at 65. Neither personal interest, but also, I can't afford to." 

McKinney is the manager of the Engage program at Age & Opportunity, a national development organization in Dublin that focuses on improving the quality of life for Irish people who are at least 50 years old. 

"Older people are still in the main making very active and positive contributions to their local communities and often, indeed, on a wider level, which can be either through paid work or volunteering as well," he said.

Aging Workforce

With the release last September of the Age in the Workplace Employment Report 2019 from law firm William Fry, headquartered in Dublin, interest in the aging workforce and mandatory retirement in Ireland has heightened.

According to recent figures from Ireland's Central Statistics Office, there were roughly 3,000 more workers over age 65 in the workplace in 2019 than there were in 2018, with 81,600 workers in 2019 compared to 78,600 the year before. The number of older workers in the Irish workforce has doubled in the last 20 years, making it more likely that a workplace will have a more age-diverse workforce. Part of that diversity is due to employees' financial need to keep working.

"There are quite a few [people] that say, 'I'm going to have to provide for myself,' " said Alicia Compton, partner in William Fry's employment and benefits department and a co-author of the report. "That's something you can do if you have many years left in the workplace, but it's not something you can jump into if you thought you were going to be retiring in five years' time."

The increasing eligibility age for state pensions can be anxiety-inducing. Many people used to retire when the state pension became payable at age 65, Compton said. But the state pension age has risen and will continue to rise.

"It was 65 in 2014, then 66, 67," Compton said, "and by 2020, the state pension won't be payable until you're 68." 

According to the Fry report, 61 percent of respondents think they will have to work past age 66.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Older Workers]

Mandatory Retirement

There is no mandatory retirement age in Ireland, so more workers are choosing to stay in the workforce longer. Employers must justify any mandatory retirement policies. Some of the accepted justifications include succession planning, health and safety issues, and intergenerational fairness, which refers to younger employees having the opportunity to advance in their careers, Compton said.

But McKinney is wary. 

"Intergenerational fairness, to my mind, could be interpreted as an age bias," he said. McKinney worries that the idea that opportunities need to be spread across generations is not only counterproductive but incorrect.

"Economies don't work like that. Economies are not a pie or a cake. There isn't a fixed number of slices. It's been shown that economies that are better at keeping older people at work are also the same economies that are better at creating opportunities for younger people," he said.

Filing a claim against perceived age discrimination is easy in Ireland. 

"You don't need a lawyer, you don't need a huge amount of money to bring your claim," Compton said. "If you don't succeed, you can't get a cross-order against you. So there's no exposure; you don't have to worry that you're going to be on the hook for the cost if you lose. I think that makes people feel like 'you know what, I'm going to take on this. … I'm going to take these guys to account.' " According to Compton, there are "very significant penalties for an employer who is found to have discriminated."

'A Whole New Phase of Life'

Ultimately, one of the main reasons people continue working past age 65 is that they enjoy their work.

"A lot of people just liked their job and had worked very hard to get good at their jobs. And for other people, it was the social aspect of it," Compton said.

McKinney agrees. 

"I kind of feel that 60 is the new 40," he said. "I'm brimming with interest and energy. I was asked on a radio show a couple of years ago, 'What are you going to do about retirement?' And I said, 'I'm not even sure I've worked out what I want to do when I grow up yet.' I just think 60 is the beginning of a whole new phase of life, which I think should be able to include work.

"I want a sense of purpose. I want to continue feeling that I'm making a difference to Irish society."

Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul.

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