Lost In France's Retirement Age Battle: Making Space For Older Workers
As debates and protests continue in France over increasing the pension age, many seniors are already voluntarily returning to work. Some do so to keep busy, but many are forced to by the cost-of-living crisis.
PARIS — “Can you show us the example, so we do the same on the other side?" Rannia, 26, asks her older colleague as they set up the shop windows where the starters will be offered. It's a little after 11 a.m., the Bercy Lumière inter-company restaurant will open its doors in 30 minutes, and the pressure is starting to rise.
The older worker, Regina, is moving non-stop, trying to create harmony between the colors of the different dishes. Leeks with mayonnaise, pasta salad with dried tomatoes… The different dishes are displayed on heavy trays, and it's Rannia who takes care of transporting them: “Where can I put this for you?"
The two women have been working together for just over a year. At nearly 50 years old, Regina could soon be considered a "senior" by the government, which is debating the creation of a "senior index" to promote the employment of older people as part of reforms.
In France, as debates over increasing the pension age by two years have spark new rounds of strikes, companies are still hesitant to recruit seniors: in 2021, 56% of 55-64-year-olds were in employment compared to 71.5% of people of the same age group in Germany.
France has plans to require companies with more than 300 employees to make public the proportion of seniors in their workforce, with possible financial penalties. But some companies, such as the Elior group that manages the Bercy Lumière restaurant, have already made their numbers public. In 2022, of the 2,500 people they recruited on average on permanent contracts, 18% are over 50 and 30% are over 45.
And they are far from being isolated cases. Valérie Gruau, founder of the “Senior à votre service” (Senior at your service) platform, which connects recruiters and seniors seeking a job, notes a growing interest from companies for older employees.
The first reason given by employers is the lack of labor.
"We have great difficulties recruiting drivers for school transport," says Jean-Sébastien Barrault, president of the Fédération Nationale du Transport de Voyageurs (National Federation of Passenger Transport). To fill this gap, these companies massively employ seniors at the end of their careers or retirees. “The average age in our sector is over 50,” says the president. In fact, 60% of road passenger transport employees are over 50 years old and nearly 14% are over 63 years old, according to figures.
The more experienced chefs help the youngest to stay calm.
This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that school bus drivers only work early in the morning and in the evening when the children leave school. “These part-time contracts are not attractive since they are not enough to live on," explains Jean-Sébastien Barrault. "On the other hand, it responds to a real need of a certain number of seniors, at the end of their careers or retired, to have an additional income.”
The Elior group, meanwhile, ensures that this factor is not taken into account but that older employees are recruited for their experience. "To fill certain gaps, we really need seniors," says Olga Boulay, director of the Bercy Lumière restaurant. Collective catering is often presented as a second career path for catering employees, allowing them to have schedules that are more compatible with family life.
The more experienced chefs help the youngest to stay calm, like “Chef David”, 64 years old. He doesn't want to stop, however: “I'm less tired than the young people,” he laughs.
Senior man talking to cashier
Senior job offer at IKEA via "Seniors à votre Service"'s Facebook account
Turning to seniors
Olga Boulay is not the only recruiter interested in end-of-career employees. "A lot of companies that hired young people are now turning to seniors because they say there is a real notion of the value of work, presence, respect for schedules," says Valérie Gruau, of "Senior at your service".
Seniors generally have greater stability in their personal life and are more involved.
This is a view shared by Michel Le Bras, president of Propriétés-privées.com, a network of independent real estate entrepreneurs. Of the 2,000 advisers he hopes to recruit this year, Le Bras would like to find between 500 and 600 seniors.
“We train people in real estate and then they work independently. We have found that this system works very well with people close to retirement, or retirees, but that, on the other hand, the success is quite low with those under 25.”
Le Bras believes there are several reasons for this. “[Seniors] generally have greater stability in their personal life and are more involved in this project. They also have a better knowledge of their environment, since they have often lived in the same place for several years, and are better known locally."
Working out of necessity
“Seniors are also, obviously, more available. These are people who have fewer constraints of family life,” says Valérie Gruau, of “Senior à votre service”.
This is of particular interest to young parents looking for a childcare solution for their children. At Family Sphere, a network specializing in childcare at home, the number of "Granny nannies" has tripled in 10 years. “Women over the age of 50 accounted for 10% of our employees in 2011. Today, they represent 30% of our workforce,” says Mina Zanat, group general manager. "They have a much more flexible schedule than a student and parents who often live far from their own parents are really looking for a reassuring figure of granny and grandpa for their children."
Since the 2000s, the number of seniors in employment has continued to increase in France. In 2020, 495,000 people aged 55 or over declared that they combined a professional activity with a retirement pension, or 6% more than in 2014.
Most seniors continue to work out of necessity, not just to keep busy. "We have a large majority of retirees who want additional income," explains Valérie Gruau. Inflation also pushes some to return to work, “to maintain the same level of purchasing power as when they were active.”