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21/530 Application Development Award – Healthy extended working lives


Research question

• What are the impacts of workplace interventions on the health and health inequalities experienced by people who work beyond State pension age?

People who work beyond State pension age make up an increasing proportion of the workforce. Due to the changes in the State pension age and the abolition of the default retirement age, this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. If people choose to do so, they can now potentially extend their working lives for as long as they want and for as long as they are able. The proportion of older workers in workplaces varies depending on a number of characteristics, for example, the industry, region of the UK, occupational group, and the presence of equal opportunities policies and practices within the employing organisation.

Extending working life can improve health and wellbeing or be detrimental to health and wellbeing; it also has the potential to ameliorate or exacerbate health inequalities.

Delaying retirement may be financially necessary or helpful to many people and there is evidence that, for some people, extended working lives can also have both health and social benefits. However, the choice to extend working lives might not be available to some population groups who might have limited scope to make such decisions. This could be due to health status, but also socio-demographic factors such as deprivation, disability or ethnicity, for example. Also, retiring later may present difficulties for some workers in physically demanding jobs.

A recent systematic review on the health effects of extended working lives found that extended working is likely to widen health inequalities between people who choose to continue working and people who are forced to leave work early or forced to continue working or who are in poor quality jobs. Interventions to support people to have healthy extended working lives and mitigate the potential negative effects of working longer for some groups of employees will become increasingly important in the next decade and beyond.

There are very few evaluations of interventions designed to improve the health and wellbeing of people at work that investigate the impact on people who work beyond State pension age. There is some evidence that organisations are beginning to develop policies and programmes which aim to support older workers to have healthy extended working lives yet little is known about what works for whom, where and when - and how the widening of health inequalities might be prevented.

For this call, the Public Health Research (PHR) Programme is only interested in the impact of interventions on the health of people approaching and working beyond State pension age. However, the intervention does not have to be aimed exclusively at this section of the workforce.

Research areas of interest could include (but are not limited to):

  • Studies evaluating which employment policies/interventions are effective in enabling people to continue working beyond State pension age.
  • Evaluations of interventions that enable flexible and/or reduced working especially for workers in jobs which have a greater risk of adverse outcomes.
  • Evaluations of interventions developed for particular types of employment that from current evidence, are less likely to facilitate healthy supported extended working.
  • Evaluations of interventions for people who continue working full-time for financial reasons.
  • Research examining the effects of policies and programmes on quality of life.
  • Research looking at the effectiveness of maintaining and developing skills to remain in the workplace.
  • Evaluations of interventions targeted at people who are employed in low-skilled work and / or physically demanding jobs. This may be particularly important given the suggestion of a cumulative disadvantage from extending employment in these areas.
  • Investigations of interventions focused on removing barriers for specific populations or in industries where older people wish to carry on working or begin new careers, but face obstacles caused by stereotyping and inflexibility.
  • The impact of interventions on different population groups defined by factors such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity or national statistics socio-economic classification (NS-SEC) group.

A range of study designs and outcome measures can be used. Researchers will need to identify and justify the most suitable methodological approach. Researchers will also need to specify key outcomes and how these will be measured in the short, medium and long term. Primary outcomes must be health-related. For this call, the PHR Programme will accept other outcomes, as long as the link to health can be justified. Cost-effectiveness is always of interest to policy makers and the PHR Programme encourages researchers to consider including economic considerations in their application.

Researchers are encouraged to ensure that there is user involvement from the target audience in the design of the evaluation. Researchers should demonstrate the relevance of their proposed research to decision-makers and they might do this through involving them in the research team. Researchers should consider how they will share their findings with employees, employers, trades unions, special interest groups and charities, policy makers, lay and community audiences. Researchers are expected to be aware of other studies in this area and ensure their proposed research is complementary.

For further information on submitting an application to the PHR Programme, please refer to the supporting information for applicants submitting stage 1 and stage 2 applications.