How to facilitate longer working lives and flexible transitions to retirement

Author: Carlos-María Alcover

Professor of Group and Organizational Psychology
Psychology Department
Faculty of Health Sciences
Universidad Rey Juan Carlos

The aging population is a global-scale phenomenon, although there are differences among regions and countries. According to the last report with global data about the world population[1], the percentage of the population over 65 years of age reached 9.7% in 2022. However, in Spain that percentage was 20.15% in 2023[2], and it is expected to climb to 30% of the population by 2050. And another more significant piece of data is related to the life expectancy of people 65 years old: in 2022, women’s life expectancy exceeded 23 years, and that of men, close to 20 years. Projections indicate that in 2050, the life expectancy of those 65 years of age for women will exceed 25 years, and for men, 22 years. Although a direct translation can’t be made, the life expectancy of people 65 years old represents approximately the number of years, on average, they will receive a retirement pension, a time interval continuously growing.

These data should be enough to make us aware of the urgent need to introduce policies and mechanisms that facilitate and encourage prolonging one’s working life. However, the possible legislative and regulatory changes will not be enough to produce this effect if not accompanied by a cultural change that changes perceptions, values, and attitudes about retirement and the continuity of the working life. In Spain, the generally highly positive view of retirement, both by citizens and by social agents and public opinion, discourages people from remaining in the labor market after a certain age, which can be between 55 and 65 years of age. According to OECD data, in 2022, the effective retirement age will be 61.8 years for women and 62 for men, one of the lowest of the OECD and much lower than the joint average of the member countries (63.1 and 64.4, respectively)[3].

The preceding data coincide with employment rates of people 55 years or older in Spain. According to INE statistics[4], in 2023 this rate was only 26.8%, with 31.7% for men and 22.63% for women. These percentages are even more significant when compared with the averages of the countries of the European Union, where during the 2014-2023 period, employment for age groups between 55 and 64 years reached 70% for men and 58% for women[5].

In summary, the combination of the growing percentage of the population over 65 years old, an elevated life expectancy at 65 years, an effective retirement age several years below the “official” retirement age, and employment rates of people 55 years and older close to 40% less than those of the EU countries, places Spanish society in a position in which the sustainability of pension and social protection systems seems very compromised. Therefore, as most of the countries around us and those with higher levels of aging have already done, it seems time to take effective measures to facilitate and actively promote the extension of working life to ages above the current ones, and to avoid or slow down the risk of collapse or deterioration of the current system.


Factors involved in the decision to prolong working life

Due to the current and future effects of the general aging process analyzed, the trend over the last decade in countries where this phenomenon is more pronounced has been to delay official retirement ages, penalize early retirement and encourage active policies to extend working life beyond the usual retirement ages[6]. Research results[7] consistently show that the main factors associated with intentions and decisions to continue working after age 55 depend basically on four types of factors:

  1. personal situation, mainly objective and subjective general health status, perceived work capacity and levels of self-efficacy;
  2. working conditions and the organizational context, specifically personnel management policies and practices, job security, leadership styles and the organizational climate;
  3. the family and close social context, especially the spouse’s situation and the number of dependents, the personal and family economic situation, and retirement decisions of coworkers or close friends; and
  4. macro factors, such as economic incentives to retire, health and social protection systems, and the situation of the labor market.

On the other hand, it is important to distinguish between the capacity and the motivation to continue working or not after certain ages. For example, the results of one study[8] show that the most frequent variables associated with “I can” continue working were the physical and mental labor environment, the work rhythm and perceived skills/abilities, while those associated with “I want” to continue working were the centrality of work in one’s life, work time and the management’s attitude toward older workers.

The conceptual view that best allows us to capture the intentions and decisions in the middle and end phases of a career to prolong the working life is represented by the life course perspective. This approach highlights how contextual and social conditions shape life transitions, and emphasizes the interdependencies between major life spheres, such as work, family, or health[9]. These external factors configure the structure, which influences and shapes human agency, or the individual’s capacity to make decisions[10]. Consequently, people have different perceptions of voluntary (i.e., the capacity for greater agency versus structural factors) or involuntary (i.e., lower capacity for agency and greater influence of structure), in relation to the intentions and subsequent decisions they may make in the course of life[11].

Research results on the influence of these two types of factors on decisions to prolong working life are mixed, mainly due to the effect of cultural factors and occupational characteristics, which largely influence individual decisions. For example, a context like Spain, where a strong pro-retirement culture still prevails, or being employed in occupations where corporate restructuring and mergers have been very intense (i.e., banking, telecommunications, and certain industrial sectors), have significantly influenced the early retirement decisions of a very large number of people in recent decades. In summary[12], agency decisions, or willingness, to continue working and extend working life beyond retirement age are associated with four factors, which in turn interact with different variables of the context, or structure:

  1. skills appropriate to the labor market, perceived employability, professional growth, and both objective and perceived work ability;
  2. intrinsic motivation, organizational commitment. and task commitment, which in turn make up the affective bond with the organization and the work;
  3. job satisfaction and generativity, i.e., opportunities to share knowledge with younger co-workers; and
  4. sociodemographic factors, such as living without a partner, good health conditions and higher education.

Logically, characteristics and inverse factors exert a facilitating effect on decisions to retire early or not to extend working life.

Policies and practices to prolong working life

As a general guideline, for organizations, companies and institutions in all areas to articulate their own policies and practices, there needs to be a legislative and regulatory context that actively facilitates and encourages longer working lives. This framework does not refer exclusively or primarily to measures to delay retirement age in a linear fashion, but rather to specific incentives ¾for employers and employees¾ to extend working life, both before and after retirement. An example of the latter is perfectly illustrated by the proposal of full retirement and work compatibility, as postulated and defended from different perspectives[13], and as already permitted and promoted in many countries in our environment[14].

In the specific field of organizations, in general, the most effective interventions to prolong working life[15] are multicomponent interventions that address different objectives, generally related to improving physical and cognitive health, accommodating and adapting tasks and jobs, increasing physical exercise and self-care activities, and other specific actions according to workers’ specific needs[16]. Based on the results of recent reviews[17], several policies and practices have been put forward to encourage the retention of older workers in jobs and prolonged working lives, aimed at policy makers and social agents as well as organizational managers:

  1. Promoting incentives to increase work ability in older workers.
  2. Eliminate age-based job discrimination in conjunction with promoting gender equality.
  3. Investing in training, lifelong learning, health and well-being, while striving to maintain and increase productivity.
  4. Promoting creativity, knowledge development and intrinsic work motivation.
  5. Improving working conditions to increase workers’ occupational safety and health.
  6. Promoting intergenerational relations, social inclusion, and social support for older workers in organizational contexts.
  7. Supporting policies and practices aimed at late retirement, in line with the increase in life expectancy.
  8. Reducing early retirement if workers’ health and work ability (perceived and objective) are satisfactory and there are no objective reasons for exiting the labor market.

In addition to these policies, practices, and interventions, one of the most widely used strategies in the last two decades aimed at prolonging working life and facilitating transitions from employment to retirement is [18]bridge employment, one of the most important options for continuing to work after retirement[19], closely related to the aforementioned compatibility between retirement pension and work. These arrangements relate to employment transitions that occur both within one’s own profession and in other occupations, and may take the form of salaried employment (full or part-time), permanent or temporary jobs, and self-employment. In addition, transitions can occur within the same organization or by changing to other organization(s)[20].

Specifically, organizational interventions to promote internal bridge employment (i.e., of its own older employees) refer to all those interventions that facilitate changes of position, activities, workday, work periods, etc., that voluntarily and by negotiation allow for the extension of working life beyond the usual retirement ages, with benefits for both the organization and the older workers.

Meanwhile, organizational interventions to promote external bridge employment (i.e., of older employees from the labor market) refer to active recruitment and selection policies and practices for hiring older people that, through these negotiated and individualized arrangements, which may take the form of idiosyncratic-deals based on employees’ skills and needs, use bridge employment arrangements in pursuit of mutually beneficial outcomes. These bridge employment arrangements include hiring people who had taken early retirement and who are able and willing to return to work before final retirement[21].

In short, these policies, practices, and interventions can enhance not only the extension of working life, but also facilitate flexible transitions from working life to retirement, so this important life transition takes place in a more individual, gradual and even more natural way, instead of the abrupt, often involuntary and also traumatic change involved in the prevailing traditional model, clearly anachronistic in the current sociodemographic context.


This article has attempted to contextualize the extension of working life by considering the sociodemographic characteristics of today’s society, marked by population aging and, in particular, by the significant increase in life expectancy at 65 years of age. In this context, active policies and practices aimed at facilitating and encouraging longer working lives should be a priority for governments, administrations, organizations and stakeholders, if the goals are to guarantee current pension and social protection systems, maintain social cohesion, promote active aging and enable citizens to make voluntary decisions and exercise their right to retire when, how and where they wish to do so. The benefits, direct and indirect, of changing the still dominant pro-retirement culture and promoting longer working lives will have an impact on society as a whole, so maintaining the status quo and delaying action to progressively bring about this change may compromise the well-being of both current and future generations.


This article uses material from two of the authors’ works in the process of publication:
Alcover, C. M. (2024). Envejecimiento en el trabajo, prolongación de la vida laboral y transiciones a la jubilación. In C. Montes (coord.), Desafíos actuales en los entornos laborales. Madrid: Pirámide.
Alcover, C. M. (2024). What builds bridge employment? Agency and structure building blocks in mid- and late-career decisions. In E. Parry, J. McCarthy, & N. Heraty (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Age Diversity and Work, 2nd edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan.


[1] United Nations (2022). World Population Prospects 2022. Summary of Results. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

[2] National Statistics Institute, INE (2024). Population structure indicators, 2024. 

[3] OCDE. Pensions at a glance 2023. Effective age of labor market exit.

[4]National Statistics Institute, INE (2024). Employment rates for different age groups

[5] EUROSTAT (2024). Employment, annual statistics.

[6] Alcover, C. M. (2017). Bridge employment: Transitions from career employment to retirement and beyond. In E. Parry & J. McCarthy (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Age Diversity and Work (pp. 225-262). Palgrave Macmillan.

[7] See, for example, Alcover, C. M., Bargsted, M., & Yeves, J. (2023). Individual agency and structure perceptions in intentions to withdrawal from work early/late in the mid-and late-career. Personnel Review. 52(1), 304-320. Solem, P. E., Syse, A., Furunes, T., Mykletun, R. J., De Lange, A., Schaufeli, W., & Ilmarinen, J. (2016). To leave or not to leave: Retirement intentions and retirement behaviour. Ageing & Society, 36(2), 259–281. Principi, A., Bauknecht, J., Di Rosa, M., & Socci, M. (2020). Employees’ Longer Working Lives in Europe: Drivers and Barriers in Companies. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(5), 1658.

[8] Nilsson, K., Hydbom, A. R., & Rylander, L. (2011). Factors influencing the decision to extend working life or retire. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 37(6), 473–480.

[9] Henkens, K. (2015). Labor force transitions in late life: between agency and structure. In Finkelstein, L., Truxillo, D., Fraccaroli, F. and Kanfer, R. (Eds), Facing the Challenges of a Multi-age Workforce: A Use-inspired Approach (pp. 321-330). Routledge.

[10] Henkens, K. & van Solinge, A. (2021). The changing world of work and retirement. In K. F. Ferraro & D. Carr (Eds.), Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences (pp. 269-285). Academic Press.

[11] Alcover et al. (2023), op. cit.

[12] Carlstedt, A. B., Brushammar, G., Bjursell, C., Nystedt, P., & Nilsson, G. (2018). A scoping review of the incentives for a prolonged work life after pensionable age and the importance of “bridge employment”. Work 60(2), 175–189. Fouquereau, E., Bosselut, G., Chevalier, S., Coillot, H., Demulier, V., Becker, C., & Gillet, N. (2018). Better Understanding the Workers’ Retirement Decision Attitudes: Development and Validation of a New Measure. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2429.

[13] For example, Fundación AGE, Activos de Gran Experiencia (2023). Manifiesto. Por una Jubilación Compatible y la plena compatibilidad entre la prestación por jubilación y los ingresos laborales

[14] Arellano, A., Doménech, R. & García, J. R. (2022). Prolongar la vida laboral: ¿Por qué? ¿Dónde estamos? ¿Cómo hacerlo? BBVA Research.  Fernández Orrico, F. J. (2017). La compatibilidad de la pensión de jubilación con el trabajo en la Unión Europea: una manifestación de las políticas de envejecimiento activo (con especial atención a España y Portugal). Revista de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, CEF, 417, 57-88. Sánchez Martín, A. R. & Jiménez Martín, S. (2021). La compatibilidad del trabajo y el cobro de pensión en España: análisis institucional en el contexto europeo. FEDEA.*1cf6m7e*_ga*NjIxMTIxMzMzLjE3MTUxNTcwNjc.*_ga_K71EGLC8JC*MTcxNTE1NzA2Ny4xLjAuMTcxNTE1NzA3My4wLjAuMA

[15] Alcover, C. M. & Londoño, A. (2021). Panorama das intervenções sobre maturidade, trabalho e aposentadoria no contexto internacional. In M. H. Antunes, S. T. M. Boehs, & A. B. Costa (eds.), Trabalho, Maturidade e Aposentadoria: Estudos e Intervenções. Vetor Editora.

[16] Steenstra, I., Cullen, K., Irvin, E., Van Eerd, D. & IWH Older Worker Research team (2017). A systematic review of interventions to promote work participation in older workers. Journal of Safety Research, 60, 93-102.

[17] Barakovic Husic, J., Melero, F. J., Barakovic, S., Lameski, P., Zdravevski, E., Maresova, P., Krejcar, O., Chorbev, I., Garcia, N. M., & Trajkovik, V. (2020). Aging at Work: A Review of Recent Trends and Future Directions. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(20), 7659.  Nilsson, K., & Nilsson, E. (2021). Organisational measures and strategies for a healthy and sustainable extended working life and employability-a deductive content analysis with data including employees, first line managers, trade union representatives and HR-practitioners. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(11), 5626.

[18] Alcover, C. M., Topa, G., Parry, E., Fraccaroli, F., & Depolo, M. (Eds.). (2014b). Bridge Employment: A Research Handbook. Routledge.

[19] Sullivan, S. E., & Al Ariss, A. (2019). Employment after retirement: A review and framework for future research. Journal of Management, 45(1), 262–284.

[20] Alcover, C. M. (2017). Bridge employment: Transitions from career employment to retirement and beyond. In E. Parry & J. McCarthy (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Age Diversity and Work (pp. 225-262). Palgrave Macmillan. Beehr, T. A., & Bennett, M. M. (2015). Working After Retirement: Features of Bridge Employment and Research Directions. Work, Aging and Retirement, 1(1), 112–128.

[21] Alcover, C. M. (2017), op. cit.

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