06:53am Tuesday 15 October 2019

Informal flexible working good for older employees

SMALLER firms do not always need formal HR policies for older workers because an informal support approach can be successful, according to research.

By reviewing on a case-by-case basis, smaller firms are able to offer a tailored approach to older workers’ needs such as shorter hours, a change in work location or a shift in responsibility.

This approach is valued by older workers and managers and can, in some cases, help to sustain employees’ working lives, a study published in Human Resource Management Journal suggests.

This stands in contrast to larger corporations where formalised flexible working arrangements (FWAs) are the norm, usually targeted at set groups such as working parents.


Lead researcher Professor Carol Atkinson, from Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, said: “It may seem counterintuitive to eschew formal polices that are commonly accepted as the best option for HR practices but we discovered that an individualised approach allows smaller firms to deliver FWAs in beneficial ways, reinforcing their contribution to productive ageing.

“The idiosyncratic approach was prevalent in the firms we interviewed and the very absence of formal and potentially cumbersome policies creates better responsiveness.

“This is important because SMEs employ almost 60 per cent of private sector workers. With fewer young workers entering the market and an increasing pension provision, it is imperative that we support older workers to sustain their career in the best way possible.”

Researchers conducted 46 semi-structured interviews in the North West of England with older workers and owner-managers in small firms that included a GPs surgery, insurance firm and car maintenance and sales company.


Many study participants cited the informal arrangements that had been adopted in their firm as helping to extend their careers, such as a shift from physically demanding car mechanics to office-based work. 

The study concludes that these types of informal systems and HR practices in SMEs can support career longevity.


CITATION: Atkinson, C. and Sadiford, P. (2015) ‘An exploration of older flexible working arrangements in smaller firms’. Human Resource Management Journal. Doi: 10.1111/1748-8583.12074.

Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading university for the professions and a powerful driver of the North West economy.

The University educates and trains large numbers of the region’s legal and business professionals, scientists, engineers, teachers, health workers and creative professionals. It enjoys an excellent reputation for teaching and applied research and is a recognised innovator in partnership working with its local communities. The University is currently investing almost £300 million in its estate and facilities.

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