Plusieurs recherches déjà publiées concluent au haut degré de satisfaction au travail des salariés vieillissants. La préoccupation principale est alors la relation entre l'âge et la satisfaction au travail. Le présent article tente d'ajouter à notre compréhension de la transformation de la relation au travail à mesure que le salarié vieillit en considérant simultanément l'âge professionnel, l'âge physiologique et l'âge légal.
The impact of aging on the relationship of the individual to salaried employment has often been studied in function of job satisfaction. Here, as elsewhere, numerous studies have been published which conclude that there is a high degree of satisfaction at work among aging workers. While these are valuable because they focus on job satisfaction, they concern the relationship between aging and satisfaction at work. This paper, influenced by the research of the French sociologist Daniele Linhart on work relationship, seeks to add to our understanding of the transformation that the work relationship undergeos as the worker ages. The linked concepts of professional age, physiological age and legal age constitute, for us, the theoretical core on which the study of the work relationship among aging workers is based.
Linhart identifies some determinants of the work relationship which support individuals in salaried employment, that complex and ambiguous relationship. On the one hand, work fulfills an instrumental function: as well as furnishing the individual with the wherewithal to consume, it structures his or her time and integrates the worker into the social world. But to this "positive" aspect of salaried work we must add a negative, almost a tyrannical one: work circumscribes individuals by limiting the time they call their own. On another level, work occupies a "vital" place in the life of employed people. In effect, it answers certain needs for personal involvement by giving a meaning to their lives, independent of the characteristics of the job itself. The scientific organisation of work, with its penchant for the subdivision of tasks, cannot succeed, according to Linhart, in eliminating this desire for personal expression. Moreover, people find a space for themselves within the work situation to express this fundamental need, despite everything and no matter how small that space is.
The work relationship is in constant transformation throughout one's professional life. The early signs of commitment to work at the beginning of one's career tend to give way to signs of "disaffection". Hopes and objectives sought at work do not crystallise as they were meant to. But the need to get involved with one's work remains, giving birth to a "new work ethic" which in turn reenforces the work experience. From this cycle, or rebirth, older workers draw their commitment to their work and satisfaction.
However we believe that this "positive" aspect of the work relationship may well deteriorate with the physical deterioration of the aging worker. In turn this may trigger a desire to withdraw from work, to seek retirement. The professional or physiological age are only two among many at the dimensions which will serve to link aging to the work relationship. In effect, several of the instrumental dimensions of work will disintegrate sooner or later because of the legal dimensions of advancing age. Salary as a source of income will be replaced by a pension, made possible by the worker's contribution to private or public retirement schemes, as well as by the old-age pension to which all citizens are entitled.
Another of work's instrumental functions, its temporal one, will also be transformed by retirement. While retirement has long been presented as free time after an exhausting working life, the worker will find retirement is not only possible but financially viable.
Linked to these changes in the instrumental dimensions of work is the transformation of its active, vital side. Retirement cornes to be seen as a new terrain for Personal commitment and involvement. In the future, it will be to the condition of "non-work" that the former worker will have to look for his or her sense of meaning.
All these elements developing out of the process of aging contribute progressively to the reformulation of the relationship of the worker to work. For the aging worker, they legitimate either the desire for involvement with work or for a flight from it to retirement. This transformation of the work relationship is in part attributable to the ways in which society treats aging and old age. Finally it is possible that the effects of age on the work relationship may vary according to sex, professional status and sector of employment.
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