The professional midlife crisis

Newsroom 09/09/2014 | 10:35

Increasing retirement ages at European level, which should counteract the effects of aging populations on overburdened pensions systems, may also spell new opportunities for 40+ employees to secure a job and challenge discrimination – but the jury is still out.

By Otilia Haraga

“At 40, the first age-related problems appear in employees’ professional lives: a clear separation from those under 30, the feeling (on both sides) of belonging to different groups, no longer working and collaborating the same, including with those outside the company such as customers or providers. (…) The first physical differences start to show as well: what they look like, the habits and tastes specific to this age category, the behavioral differences, energy levels and fatigue, plus social interactions,” executive search consultant George Butunoiu tells BR.

Which invites the question: what are the chances of landing a good job after 40? Opinions are split among the HR pundits canvassed by Business Review.

Some of them, such as HR specialist Andreea Bucur, believe this age group is indeed waging a battle against ageism in Romania. “There is discrimination on the market in recruitment on certain sectors and for certain jobs,” she says.

Official data from the Ministry of Labor, that Ileana Lucian, partner at Musat & Asociatii, outlined to BR, show that the 40-49 age group registers the highest unemployment rate at national level.

Moving up the age axis, workers between 50 and 64 represent only 22 percent of the economically active population. “As a result, we can say that employment prospects in Romania are seriously affected by the age factor,” says Lucian, commenting on the data from the National Institute of Statistics.

Butunoiu adds, “Prospects begin to decline between 40 and 50, but not too much. After 50, however, they fall fast. In Romania, this phenomenon is more marked, because the wider trend to avoid hiring elderly people is exacerbated by stereotypes about the mentality and frustrations of those who lived under and were shaped by communism.”

He believes that these differences do not affect senior employees in key managerial positions as much, but have an impact on the professional activity and social relations of those in lower positions, as they perceive the differences between themselves and younger colleagues as a threat, says Butunoiu.

“Very few of them are realistic, come to realize their situation and deal with it. Most feel they have been done an injustice (cognitive dissonance) and so become frustrated. This is usually the beginning of the end. They enter into a vicious circle, and there is no getting out: the more frustrated they are, the more their chances of reintegration/readjustment decrease. This increases their frustration even more, it starts to become visible, and there you go! No one wants to hire someone who is frustrated,” he concludes.

For Bucur, the truth lies in the middle. “Employers’ caution is due both to the lack of compatibility between job requirements and the candidates’ real skills, as well as the inability of many employees of this age to be flexible, learn new things and adapt to new technologies,” she says.

However, Bucur says that it greatly depends on the individual. “I can think of many examples of people who have managed to do something else and started from scratch even after 40 or 50. The reality is that every individual can make a difference,” she says.

Florin Godean, country manager at Adecco Romania, tells BR that employers do not discriminate. “When they find a candidate that is up to their expectations, the age, marital status and sex of that employee do not matter. Prospects are high and real.”

The Romanian state aims to discourage the overlooking of senior candidates and provides incentives for employers who give professionals over 45 a chance.

Lucian outlines that Law 76/2002 on the unemployment insurance system and labor force grants employers who hire someone over 45 for an unlimited period RON 500 (the current value of the benchmark social indicator) a year for every such hire, provided the job lasts for at least 18 months.

In Belgium and Bulgaria incentives are also granted to employers who provide jobs or improve working conditions for senior employees, she adds.

“The real issue, I believe, is the fact that at this age, once one has a certain training in a field, it is quite hard to readjust, take a step back in one’s career and move to another industry or to a new position that one believes is below one’s worth,” says Godeanu.

The areas where the European market has vacancies suited to more senior candidates remain those that involve knowledge of foreign languages, and jobs in service centers and retail, which do not involve much movement, but conducting operations at a desk and computer, Godeanu tells BR.

“The European market demands cheap and well skilled labor. There are fields where the offer is much higher, such as IT, production/FMCG, agriculture, the medical sector, transportation and construction,” adds Bucur.

Asked by BR, online recruitment website BestJobs provided some statistics on senior employees looking for work in Romania.

In July, there were 600,000 job seekers aged over 35, of whom 395,000 were between 35 and 45, and a little over 200,000 over 45.

Out of the total number of job seekers on BestJobs, 34 percent had graduated from a faculty, while 35 percent had between 10 and 20 years of experience on the labor market. Most were looking for positions in sales and engineering, representing 23 percent each.

EU wants more workers active for longer

The public pensions system has been regulated by Law 263/2010 since January 1, 2011. The law will raise the retirement age to 60 for women and 65 for men by January 2015. However, the women’s retirement age will continue to grow gradually until 2030 from 60 to 63, Lucian tells BR.

“Europa 2020, launched in 2010 by the European Commission, reports that in the EU the population is aging fast, and the economically active proportion will start to shrink in 2013-2014. This, combined with the growth in the number of retired people, will put additional pressure on = social protection systems,” she warns.

An important target of EU member states is to grow the working population at European level, which includes the greater involvement of senior workers. “In Europe, including Romania, the ratio of retired people to the active population is expected to grow,” Lucian says.

The debate agenda of the Chamber of Deputies features a bill that will bring changes to Law 263/2010, intended to raise women’s retirement age to 65. The trend is to gradually equalize the retirement ages of women and men over 2030-2035, according to the law firm partner.

She adds that this is a consequence of the recommendations that the European Commission sent to Romania, “in the context of a society with an aging population that affects the financial sustainability of the public pensions system.”

The Commission also promotes, in its recommendations, the provision of jobs for senior employees, she adds.

“The market has selection mechanisms. Each organization will have ways to choose between people who are at the end of their professional career and those who are just beginning. Lately, we have seen that skilled personnel are favored over those starting out. In spite of this, I doubt the increase in the retirement age will lead to market saturation, since there is a deficit of skilled employees,” Catalin Micu, managing associate Zamfirescu Racoti & Partners, tells BR.

He adds that the increase in active workers brought about by the rising retirement threshold will trigger new approaches in life insurance and pensions schemes, but will ultimately save the state budget money.

Godeanu also argues that the rise in the retirement age brings advantages in personal and psychological development for workers, because by carrying on with their professional lives they will stay active and engaged.

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