In the context of extended working lives, strategies that have the potential to increase the employment participation of older workers gain in importance. One strategy proposed is an employer change at higher working age, which may improve the fit between older workers and their work regarding working conditions, motivation, work ability and health - and therefore to extend the personal working life. By changing on their own initiative, older workers have the opportunity to leave unsuitable and psychologically or physically demanding jobs. However, voluntary employer changes are not an opportunity for every older worker as diverse obstacles such as employer provided pension systems, assured income, job security, or poor health prevent such changes. The group of older workers characterized by the personal inability to change or the lack of alternatives, although they would prefer to change, constitutes more of a risk group to employment participation.
Therefore, the aim of the present thesis is to shed light on actual and desired employer changes among older workers, their proportion, antecedents and consequences on work, health and work ability. The model on motivational states of staying and leaving by Hom, Mitchell, Lee, and Griffeth (2012) form a theoretical basis for this thesis as four groups of workers were distinguished: The enthusiastic leavers who want to and can leave, the reluctant leavers who have to leave because they are forced to, the reluctant stayers who do not change although they would prefer to and the enthusiastic stayers, who want to stay and feel no external pressure to leave. This thesis consists of three studies published in international peer-reviewed journals. All studies are based on data from the German lidA Cohort Study, which is a representative cohort study of socially insured older employees in Germany born in either 1959 or 1965. The analyses included data from the first three waves of the study, 2011 (n=6585), 2014 (n=4244) and 2018 (n=3586).
Study I gives an overview on the topic of occupational change at higher working age including frequencies, reasons for actual and desired changes and characterizations of the four change groups. Changes of employer are differentiated from two other forms of occupational change: the change of work tasks and the change of profession. The analyses are based on data from the second and third wave of the lidA-study. The results showed that the most common occupational changes were changes of work tasks (45.1%), followed by changes of employer (13.4%) and profession (10.5%). Multinomial logistic regression analyses revealed that enthusiastic leavers, reluctant leavers and reluctant stayers differ from the enthusiastic stayers in terms of socio-demographic factors, health measures, and job factors.
Study II focuses on employer changes and the short-term consequences of voluntary, involuntary and desired changes for health, work ability and several psychosocial working conditions. The analyses are also based on data from the second and third wave of the lidA-study. Repeated Measures ANOVAs revealed that the groups differ significantly in terms of health, work ability, and psychosocial work factors. While enthusiastic leavers reported significant improvements in mental health, work ability, leadership quality, work-family conflict, possibilities for development and quantitative demands, reluctant stayers reported deteriorations while staying with their employer. Reluctant leavers reported, on the one hand, improvements in work ability, leadership quality and support from colleagues, and on the other hand, deteriorations in influence at work.
In study III, the long-term consequences of voluntary employer changes on the older workers´ work ability were investigated. With data from the first three waves of the lidA-study, changers and stayers were tracked and compared over seven years. Fixed effects regression analyses, including lag and lead variables, showed that the work ability of participants, who changed between 2011 and 2014, initially improved following the change and then considerably deteriorated while staying with the new employer. This phenomenon is called a honeymoon-hangover effect (Boswell, Boudreau, & Tichy, 2005).
Overall, the three studies showed that employer changes at higher working age help to maintain health and work ability and can significantly improve adverse psychosocial working conditions. Although a honeymoon-hangover effect for work ability was investigated and found, long-term consequences for a higher employment participation are to be expected. Older workers who do not want to stay with the employer are a risk group for adverse working conditions, poor health, low work ability, and early exit from work. Consequences on an organizational and national level can be derived from the results. More research is needed on the long-term consequences of voluntary and involuntary staying and leaving at higher working age on employment participation and on the obstacles which keep older workers at undesired workplaces.