Between the highly sensitive issue of pay and that of generational breakdown, Alban Azzopardi looks at the reasons why older French people find it so difficult to find work or stay in work. ion.
While the employment rate of 55-64 year-olds in France has risen significantly to 57%, it still lags behind the European average by more than 5 points, and even Denmark by almost 15 points.
A few days ago, the French Minister of the Economy said he was in favor of lowering the duration of unemployment benefits for the over-55s to bring them into line with those of other unemployed workers. But will this really solve the problem?
It’s a fact: on average, company directors and HR directors recruit few older employees, often preferring younger profiles. Yet they say they have no objective reason to disadvantage them, and even recognize their many skills.
How can we explain this paradox? Recruiters cite two main reasons. The first is the sensitive issue of remuneration. In fact, we seem to consider that advancing in age should automatically be accompanied by an increase in salary, as if it were justified to remunerate past experience rather than current added value. Similarly, a younger employee has no fewer needs than an older one. This is even truer in France than in other OECD countries: in France, the average salary of over-55s is 17% higher than that of 25-54 year-olds, compared with 11% in Germany and 3% in Denmark.
Breaking with this line of reasoning would mean, on a case-by-case basis, aligning a senior employee’s remuneration with the tasks actually entrusted to him or her. Although possible and legitimate on a case-by-case basis, this solution cannot be applied across the board: it would be neither fair (higher salaries may also reflect, in part, greater productivity), nor even desirable in view of the decline in purchasing power. In order to preserve purchasing power, we would have to compensate for any reductions in remuneration with new exemptions from charges linked to age or type of contract.
The second reason has to do with day-to-day corporate life. In the face of generational disruptions, linked to technological upheavals and societal changes, some people – wrongly – doubt that a senior employee can adapt to the profound and rapid evolution of the world of work, and integrate into younger teams.
Which brings us to another question: what if the employment difficulties experienced by older people reflect our particular relationship to work, leisure and retirement? This is in a state of upheaval. On average, we’ll be living and working longer and differently. Beyond a post-covid effect, we’re convinced that we’re only at the beginning of a revolution that should push us all to evolve.
As far as employees are concerned, the change is well underway, with the questioning of an approach that distinguishes between well-defined periods: studies, then employment (valuing the sacrosanct CDI and career advancement) and finally retirement, materialized by the psychological cut-off age of 60, which has changed little despite successive reforms. More and more working people – and not just young people – are planning to move back and forth between training, employment and career breaks, seeking a better balance between personal and family life, and changing companies and even professions more frequently. From this point of view, the last years of a working life can be seen as a period of transition during which people wish to “take their foot off the accelerator”, while remaining active and giving their employer the benefit of their experience and skills.
Ultimately, companies have a crucial role to play! It’s not a question of encouraging them to “take the risk” of recruiting a senior employee, but of helping them to profoundly change their approach to the issue. They need to integrate intergenerational skills into the company as an inescapable and beneficial fact, and give their senior employees the right place, the one in which they will flourish most, in the interests of the whole company.
Whether we act on remuneration or the content of the assignment, we won’t be able to do without overhauling the professional framework, giving more space to agility, with, in particular, more short contracts linked to precise assignments, remunerated according to the work produced and not the CV of the holder. The fact that France is lagging behind in the employment of older workers reflects our psychological, organizational and legal rigidities. It is by tackling these issues without taboos that we will meet the challenge of a society where fulfillment can become a reality at any age.