Bridge jobs refer to temporary positions for transitions in working life. With a growing share of older people in the population, bridge jobs, also called bridge employment, are useful concepts to understand the process between a full-time career to complete retirement. Bridge jobs include a variety of setups: continued salaried work after retirement, full or part-time, for the same employer as before; working permanently or temporarily for a new employer; self-employed or entrepreneur; and reentry or unretirement.
With a new composition of the population, where the proportion of older adults has increased, the issue of a prolonged working life has been raised. The interest for a prolonged working life can be found on the societal as well as on the individual level. On the societal level, discussions mainly concern the pension systems and how to guarantee the welfare of older people in the immediate future. On the individual level, there is an interest from a growing number of older adults to stay active and productive by continuing to work later in life. For these individuals, however, flexible and alternative solutions for a prolonged working life are attractive, and this explains the increased interest for bridge jobs as a way to offer flexible and individualized working conditions. An interest from society and individuals for a prolonged working life sets the focus on how organizations can meet these new demands. The three interactive components belonging to different system levels – society, organization, and the individual – should be included when discussing a prolonged work life (Shultz 2003). This means to consider the individual’s ability and volition to continue working, the work opportunities that organizations offer, and the sociocultural context in society and the country in question. Since bridge jobs later in life is a growing phenomenon, both in practice and in research, there is a need to continue to strive for a more comprehensive understanding of expectations and experiences in this area (Mazumdar et al. 2018). To develop support systems, work environment strategies, and competence developing strategies for bridge jobs, the dynamics of complex relationships within and between different components can contribute to an understanding of the transition process from a full-time career to complete retirement.
Key Research Findings
In a scoping review of the research area bridge employment and prolonged work life, the analysis inspired by the three levels suggested by Shultz (2003) showed that most investigations are conducted on individual-level predictors (Björklund Carlstedt et al. 2018). The same review stated that research on organizational level predictors is more scattered, and societal level predictor information is scarce. This is in line with the review performed by Beehr and Bennett (2015). Another review made by Quine and Carter (2006) stated that many articles are not grounded on empirical studies, and this finding is in line with the review made by Björklund Carlstedt et al. (2018).
Older Adults’ Propensity for Participation in Bridge Jobs
There are a number of factors connected to the decision to stay beyond pensionable age in the labor market: to have good health, to want or need monetary gain, and to have education and skills that are suitable for the labor market. Additionally, social needs, maintaining identity, and spouses’ work status could influence the decision to continue in a bridge job.
The motivation of older adults to stay in working life has been explored in several studies (e.g., Kanfer and Ackerman 2004; Kooij et al. 2008; Kanfer et al. 2013). Work-related factors of job involvement, schedule flexibility, retirement plans, attitudes toward retirement, and job seeking self-efficacy have an impact on employment decisions later in life (Pengcharoen and Shultz 2010). Individuals who work in jobs with undesirable characteristics will most likely retire (Ulrich and Brott 2005). The spouses’ economics and retirement decisions are furthermore recognized factors to understand retirement. Beyond wanting to continue working, there is also the issue of having good health to be able to continue working (Kerr and Armstrong-Stassen 2011). Not surprisingly, health has been identified as a prerequisite to being able to work. This has been repeatedly stated in studies performed in several national contexts, such as Australia, Canada, Germany, Iran, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, the UK, the USA, and more. If the experience of aging is regarded as a period of physical loss, a force for postretirement employment might be seen as an additional burden to health conditions and therefore something negative to be rejected (Fasbender et al. 2014). When looking at the motives to continue in bridge jobs, it is necessary to remember that many individuals do not have a choice in terms of whether they can leave or stay. The need for money, social security benefits, and access to medical care are incentives for people without financial security (e.g., Nilsson et al. 2011). At the same time, studies show that results can differ across the world. A study in urban China illustrates that those with higher incomes were less likely to retire and more likely to work – contrary to findings in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (Ling and Chi 2008). The level of education can explain the probability to continue in bridge jobs. This is important for the employer’s interest in prolonging employment and offering alternatives, as well as for the employee’s willingness to continue working. Men and women with a higher level of education tend to work longer according to studies from several countries. This should be understood in relation to the work itself, as people with higher education tend to have more stimulating tasks and less physical hardship in working life. With the new generations that live longer, there is also the question of generativity and wanting to give back; older adults enjoy being able to share knowledge with the younger generations and participating in the social environment of working life. A bridge job can thus be a way to financial security, but it can also be a source of growth and development later in life.
The Organization and Bridge Jobs
On the organizational level, there are employers who look for new ways to retain older workers and at the same time encourage employees to reevaluate the traditional approach to retirement (Jaimie et al. 2011). Research on a prolonged working life in organizations is usually structured along the lines of facilitators and barriers.
To facilitate a prolonged working life, the organization can offer training, lifelong learning, flexible work hours, health protection, and job design. Education is a crucial element for the inclusion of older workers (Angeloni and Borgonovi 2016). To support older workers, employers can support the upgrading of skills as well as the acquisition of new skills among older workers (Armstrong-Stassen and Ursel 2009). Supporting a healthy lifestyle and providing education are facilitators for extended working life (Fraser et al. 2009). Employers who offer a flexible work setup and provide financial rewards can support that employees stay rather than retire but to have a stimulating job was one of the main reasons for not taking full retirement (Proper et al. 2009).
Barriers to staying longer in working life are stress, lack of support, physical demands, and an overemphasis on qualifications (Fraser et al. 2009). Older adults face age stereotypes, both negative and positive, and it is common to encounter age discrimination in the labor market. Systematic negative stereotyping might lead employers to be less interested in hiring older workers (Gringart et al. 2005). If older adults still want to work, they might be forced into sectors with a low payment, often involving part-time work with low demands regarding qualifications (Lain 2012). Workforce aging will impact organizations in many ways, but only 21% of organizations around the world stated that they have strategies in place to retain older workers (Cochran et al. 2012). There is a lack of effort from employers to keep staff, even if they are worried about the gap between labor costs and productivity (Conen et al. 2012). It should also be noted that although there might be support from the organization, it is not always enough to persuade employees to stay.
The Societal Context for Bridge Jobs
As stated, studies of bridge jobs in relation to the societal level are scarce. The focus on future costs for pensions and health care has, however, increased the interest to increase the proportion of older adults in working life. Efforts to support a prolonged working life concern positive financial benefits for older adults, such as raised wage (Schmidt and Sevak 2009) or a differentiated tax (Shannon and Grierson 2004). In the North American context, the so-called baby boomers have increased their working years, mainly dependent on lower rates of retiree health insurance offered by employers, higher levels of educational attainment, and lower rates of defined benefit pension coverage (Mermin et al. 2007). Traditional retirement income, social security, private pensions, and savings as benefits from continued work are relevant for baby boomers’ decision to retire (Cahill et al. 2015). Changes to social security benefits have affected the recent retirement trends with men aged 65–67 being more likely to work full-time in 2004 than in 1998 (Gustman and Steinmeier 2009). An alternative to bridge jobs is volunteering jobs or caring for relatives. While caring duties reduce the odds of doing paid work, volunteering is complementary, but individuals with poor health, less education, and low income are less likely to do volunteering jobs (Moen and Flood 2013). Issues of gender and race can explain whether individuals participate in bridge jobs or not (McNamara and Williamson 2004), but this is an issue that should be further explored to understand these kinds of variables fully. Not the least since women contribute more to the increased employment rate, but at the same time, they care for relatives to a significant extent (Anxo et al. 2012).
Examples of Application
There is a substantial age-related drain from the labor force, and this calls for policy-making directed toward bridge employment for older adults’ prolonged working life. In this line of work, the starting point is that older people are a heterogeneous group and that individual traits exist in all ages (Stamov-Roßnagel and Hertel 2010). Questions about staying in working life are also dependent to a high degree on contexts in time and place. Furthermore, if policies for prolonged working life are to be of relevance, they need to be based on empirical investigations and take older people’s experiences as their point of departure.
Future Directions of Research
To be able to continue working later in life, good health is fundamental. Research on the health aspect shows that people with good health are active in bridge jobs, while people with poor health leave working life. There is a correlation between health and prolonged working life, but this does not answer whether a prolonged working life supports good health or not. Connected to health is the need for older adults to meet the demand for voluntary care of relatives and friends. These efforts of voluntary care have mainly been by women, but the gender dimension has not been prominent in research on bridge jobs and bridge employment. Stereotype ideas about older adults should also be further scrutinized since the older workforce is being thought of as worn out and needs to be replaced by younger generations (Barusch et al. 2009). Since education and skills are relevant for the organization, future studies should delve into how competence development and upgrading of skills takes place later in life. Connected to this is the need to provide educational and vocational guidance to enable older adults to find their place in working life (Ulrich and Brott 2005; Cummins 2014; Bergmo-Prvulovic 2017). As most of the existing studies are performed on individuals, the suggestion for future research comes from these discussions. Therefore, there is also a need to perform studies on the organizational and societal level. A contribution to the societal level is the national contexts described in several existing studies. To know about contextual factors and their impact on continued participation in working life is needed since older adults in bridge jobs should be understood as a complex phenomenon to create socially and economically sustainable solutions.
Bridge jobs provide an alternative that corresponds to needs on the individual, organizational, and societal level. The levels suggested by Shultz (2003) thus remain valid to understand a prolonged working life. For the individual, achieving new skills to continue to learn and develop, to have a new career and a better pension are good reasons to continue in working life. In addition to this, good health is a prerequisite to being able to participate in bridge jobs. To support a continued working life, however, the organizational and societal levels must be integrated into a framework where research, policy, and operations are linked together. To conclude, a positive attitude toward bridge jobs and a prolonged work life could be summarized as dependent on good health, educational level, financial gain, and flexible and alternative working conditions.
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