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Sustainable Employment

Our at work lives can often be characterised by a diverse set of employees, from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. However, little is discussed regarding employees age diversity and what this means to the organisation’s age supportive environment. What is certain though is, people are living longer, due to their more active lives, so they are able to work for longer in their lives.

The Age Spectrum

Due to a desire to work, an increased level of health in older age, as well as the rising costs of retirement, people are working longer than they once did. Therefore, the sustainable labour market of older employees has become progressively important. Currently there are four or five generations in the workforce at any time, namely;

1. Generation Z: Born 1996 and after,

2. Millennials, aka Generation Y: Born 1977 to 1995,

3. Generation X: Born 1965 to 1976,

4. Baby Boomers: Born 1946 to 1964, and

5. Traditionalists: Born 1945 and before.

The Sustainable Employee

Sustainable employment has thus been defined as the extent to which workers are able and willing to remain working now and in the future. In order to understand sustainable employment, we need to understand the requirement of a sustainable employee. Important for sustainable employees is perceptions of job features that are intrinsically rewarding, more specifically, intrinsic job value. A job is considered to have intrinsic value when the job role is seen as meaningful, stimulating, growth-related, and employees are recognized for their contribution. Intrinsic job value is especially motivating for older employees because they relate to emotionally meaningful goals that are increasingly pursued over their lives. Still, these work aspects are often found to decrease or even lack in the work situation of older employees.

A further point of employees’ perceptions of an age-supportive climate, is that employers and managers seem to invest little in the work situation of older workers, and generally hold older employees in low esteem. This might limit older workers’ opportunities and support at work, and can negatively affect older employees’ sustained labour participation. A lack of opportunities and support can also serve as a negative signal that might lower older employees’ motivation. With this in mind, it is imperative for us to look at the three main factors of sustainable employment that are crucial for employees to continue working in a satisfactory way, these include; workers’ employability, work engagement and affective commitment.


Employability refers to individuals’ ability to adequately fulfil work in current and future jobs, inside and outside the current organisation. To remain employable and avoid skills undesirability, it is important for employees to continuously develop and update their skillset. Employability directly affects individuals’ attractiveness for the internal and external labour market.

Work engagement

Engaged employees have high energy levels, are highly involved in their work and experience work as being fun. Engaged employees are better in mobilising personal assets, report better health, and perform better in job roles. They are also inclined to postpone retirement. Work engagement is therefore expected to be an important indicator of sustainable employment.

Affective Commitment

Employees who have affective committe have been found to perform at a higher level, avoid being absent and turnover less often than those who are less committed. Affective commitment might also slow down the process of work disengagement that happens when older employees get closer to their retirement age.

It is has therefore become corporate responsibility to ensure that employees of all ages are coexisting in a fluid and functional ecosystem. Managers and leaders who are able to understand, communicate, motivate, train, and retain four or five different generations at the same time are in high demand in every industry. This is becoming a paramount skill in recruiting and leading, in all business sectors.

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