Extending working lives: age management in SMEs

Vanesa Fuertes (Employment Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)
Valerie Egdell (Employment Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)
Ronald McQuaid (Employment Research Institute, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, UK)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Publication date: 20 April 2013



The purpose of this paper is to present a study of age management in small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK.


Qualitative data collection and exploratory research with six SMEs comprising of: initial interviews with representatives from the SMEs; action research activities designed to raise awareness of age management issues and age discrimination legislation; and follow‐up interviews to ascertain if awareness raising activities resulted in any changes, or planned changes, in policy, practice and attitudes towards older workers.


Good practice in age management can be found in SMEs, but was not found to be part of a systematic strategy. Negative practices and attitudes towards older workers are observed, with positive and negative age stereotypes coexisting. Negative stereotypes displayed can undermine the perceived economic value of older workers. There may be a gap between policy and practice, but awareness raising campaigns that reach employers can influence existing ways of working by showing the benefits of an age diverse workforce and helping reduce prejudices against older workers.

Research limitations/implications

The sample size is small and context specific. However, the study usefully illustrates different approaches to age management policies and practices in SMEs, and the potential benefits of age management awareness in influencing attitudes and practices towards older workers in SMEs.


The experience of age management in SMEs is under researched and examples of good practice in age management are often drawn from large organisations. The paper highlights that SMEs often lack the resources to seek advice regarding age management; therefore, those responsible for age management awareness raising activities may need to approach businesses directly.



Fuertes, V., Egdell, V. and McQuaid, R. (2013), "Extending working lives: age management in SMEs", Employee Relations, Vol. 35 No. 3, pp. 272-293. https://doi.org/10.1108/01425451311320477

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