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Academic: Professional skills peak at middle age

Tampere University Professor Clas-Håkan Nygård has argued that physically healthy seniors can hold their own in the workplace alongside their younger colleagues. Nygård contends that there is no basis for age discrimination in the job market.

Vanhuksen kädet tietokoneen näppäimistöllä.
Tampere University professor Clas-Håkan Nygård says seniors in good health should be allowed to work as long as possible. Image: Yle

According to Clas-Håkan Nygård, a professor of health sciences at the University of Tampere, many extensive scientific studies have shown that most workers maintain their mental and social work skills throughout their lives.

“The claim is based particularly on research that has monitored workers in the municipal sector for 30 years. Seniors manage their working lives very well as long as they stay healthy. Only their physical condition may deteriorate to the point where they aren’t capable of heavy physical labour,” Nygård pointed out.

The professor said it is all too easy to think that people lose their ability to work after a certain age. He said that keeping up with the demands of work depends primarily on whether or not work duties are in balance with the employee’s physical condition.

Back to work from retirement

The capacity to work and productivity may even peak in late middle-age, according to Nygård. Furthermore older workers are an important resource and an optimal work environment will retain employees who represent a broad age spectrum. He pointed out that many senior workers want to continue working for as long as possible.

“Their motivation remains high if the work and the environment are interesting. We see this in cases where many have come out of retirement to work in the service sector. They have not been tempted by money alone, but also because they want meaning in their lives and they miss their workmates,” he added.

According to Nygård it is important to lengthen working careers in Finland – and not just at one end of the age scale. Flexible solutions should be introduced to retain middle-aged workers who may otherwise go on disability pension. At the other end of the spectrum he said, students should be encouraged to start working at a reasonable age.

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