Older people and employment in Scotland: research

An examination of attitudes and issues surrounding an older workforce.

Annex D: Interview topic guide for older people


  • Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me today. Our conversation will probably take between 1-1.5 hours, although you are free to stop at any time if you need to.
  • I just want to start off by explaining a little bit more about the research project and what we will be doing in this interview.

The research

  • This study is about the employment experiences of people in Scotland aged 50 or over. The research is important because although people are now being encouraged to work for longer, very little is known about how workers feel about that, or about how people make decisions about retirement. The Scottish Government has funded this study, and we will be writing a report for them based on our findings.
  • Today, I will be asking you a range of questions about various aspects of your experiences of work over the course of your life, and your plans for the future. Right at the start it's important to say that there are no right or wrong answers to the questions I will ask you; I just want to hear about your own views and experiences.
  • If I ask you a question that you don't want to answer, you can just tell me and we'll move on; you don't have to give me a reason.
  • Do you have any questions you would like to ask me before we start?
  • I just want to check again that you are happy to go ahead with the interview, and happy for me to record our conversation? I may also take a few notes as we talk, just so that I don't miss anything that I might want to ask you more about. CONSENT FORM
  • The papers where your words are written down will be kept locked in an office at Edinburgh University and stored on office computers in password protected files. Only the researchers will have access to these files.
  • Your words or opinions may be written down for other people to read, for example in our final report. Your real name will not be used, but it will be stated that you are a male/female worker living in central Scotland.

1. Background information

To start with, I'd just like to collect some background information about you….

Use timeline grid as a framework to explore issues: education & employment history; family formation; geographical location; caring responsibilities, voluntary work/volunteering; major health events

  • What are your overall feelings about your working life up to this point?

2. Current employment

Nature of current employment

  • So, according to the life grid we've just filled in, you've been with your current employer for X months/years, is that right?
  • What is your current job title?
  • Do you mind telling me how much you earn?
  • How many hours a week do you work?
    • How do you feel about working that many hours?
    • Would you rather do more hours? Fewer hours?

If applicable, explore reasons for wanting to work more/fewer hours - e.g. money/ health/ caring responsibilities

  • Can you tell me a bit about your job and what an average working day is like for you?
    • How demanding do you feel your job is?
    • How much choice & control would you say you have over work, in terms of what you do & how & when you do it?
    • Do you work mainly by yourself or as part of a team?

Quality of current employment

  • Would you say that there are opportunities for you to grow & develop in your job - for example, by getting more training, or taking on more responsibilities….or is that not the case?
  • Are there any opportunities for you to work flexibly, for example by reducing your hours, or choosing when you work your hours?

If yes:

  • Do you make use of the flexible work options?
    Explore reasons for this, particularly caring commitments
  • How do you feel about being able to work flexibly?

If no:

  • Would you like to be able to work more flexibly?
    Explore reasons for this, probe re caring responsibilities.
  • Do you think that your employer treats all workers the same, or do you think that older workers are ever treated differently to younger workers?
    • (If treated differently) What sort of thing have you noticed?
      PROBE: distribution of workload; training/promotion opportunities
    • Do you think that how older workers are treated depends on who their line manager is, or does that not make a difference?
    • Why do you think employees are treated differently because of their age?
    • Have you personally experienced that kind of treatment?
  • Have there been any redundancies at your work recently?
    If yes:
    • Did that affect mostly younger or mostly older workers, or was it spread across the board?
  • How secure do you think your own job is?

Perceptions/experiences of own employability

  • How easy or difficult do you think you would find it to get another job if you needed to?
  • What do you think it's like for over 50s generally when it comes to finding a job?
    • What about for people once they've reached 65?

Just thinking about your overall feelings about your job:

  • What would you say you like most/least about the job?
  • How satisfied would you say you are with your job?
  • How committed to the job would you say you are?
  • Has your sense of job satisfaction and commitment to the job changed over time at all, or has it stayed much the same?
  • Are there any aspects of your job that have got easier or harder for you as you've got older?
  • How do you feel about work now, compared to when you were younger?

3. Interactions between work & health /ageing

  • Would you say that your current job has had any impact on how you feel in yourself, either physically or mentally - or has it not made any difference?
  • I'm just wondering whether or not you are currently experiencing anything health-wise that you feel makes it harder for you to do your job properly?
    • PROBE: aches & pains, arthritis, heart conditions, blood pressure, diabetes, other chronic health probs.

If interviewee has reported health problems & is working part-time:

  • If it weren't for the health problems you've just mentioned, do you think that you would choose to work more hours, or not?
  • Do you think that just generally growing older might have any impact on your ability to do the job, or not?

4. Interactions between employment & caring responsibilities

Refer back to life grid; if interviewee has already mentioned caring responsibilities, ask the following:

  • You mentioned earlier on that you are involved in looking after XX. How easy or difficult is it to fit that in around your work commitments, time-wise?
  • I wonder whether or not you think that looking after XX ever impacts on your ability to do your job?
  • Do your work commitments ever make it difficult for you to look after XX, or not?
    • How supportive would you say your employer is in terms of recognising that you have caring responsibilities?
    • Are you ever able to adjust your working hours to make it easier to look after XX?
  • How do you feel about your current caring responsibilities?
  • Do you think that your caring commitments are likely to increase, decrease or stay the same in the coming years?
    • Do you think that's likely to have any impact on your work at all, or not?

For Interviewees With No Current Caring Responsibilities:

  • Can you foresee a time when you might need to become involved in looking after or looking out for any family members or friends?
  • How do you think you would feel about that?

5. Employment & household finances

I just want to spend a few moments talking about the contribution of your wages to your overall household income:

  • To what extent would you say that you need to work, from a financial point of view?
  • How important are your wages in terms of contributing to your overall household income?
  • Do you currently receive any of these income-related benefits?

Show Laminated Card With List Of Benefits, Including State Pension & Pension Credit

If yes:

  • Do you think you are claiming all the benefits that you're entitled to?
  • If you were to stop working, do you think this would affect your benefits?

If no:

  • Do you think you might be entitled to any benefits?
  • How would you feel about claiming benefits if you were entitled to them?
  • Do you know where to go to get advice about benefits?

6. Decisions about retirement timing

I want to move on now and talk a little bit about your views on retirement.

  • How much longer do you think you will work for?
  • Have you wanted to retire at any point before now but not been able to?

For interviewees younger than state pension age:

  • So, do you see yourself working until you qualify for your state pension, or do you think you might retire earlier or later than that? ( probe reasons for this)
  • What sorts of things have influenced or will influence your thinking and decision-making about how long to keep working & when to retire?
    • Job satisfaction
    • Career progression
    • Partner's choice to continue working/retire (if applicable)
    • to what extent would you say it's about money?
    • to what extent would you say it's about your level of health?
    • to what extent would you say it's to do with your family situation/and or caring responsibilities?
    • to what extent would you say it's to do with having had enough of work?
    • are there any other things we haven't yet mentioned that would make you want to stop working?

For interviewees working beyond state pension age:

  • Tell me the reasons why you decided to work beyond your state pension age - was it choice or necessity? ( probe finance, motivation, incentives, boredom/social reasons)
  • Are you doing the same job that you were doing before you reached state pension age or a different one?
  • When do you plan to retire?

For interviewees who had retired, but then re-entered employment:

  • What was retirement like for you?
  • What were your reasons for returning to work after you had retired? Choice or necessity?
  • How easy was it for you to get another job after you had retired?
  • How has your experience of being retired influenced how you feel about the prospect of retiring again in future?

[For partnered interviewees/couples:]

  • Have you discussed ( or did you discuss) your plans with your husband/wife/partner?
  • Do you agree on when it would be a good time for either of you to retire, or do you have different views?
  • Do you think that your partner's decision will affect (or has affected) your decision, or not?

The retirement process at work

  • How is the retirement process managed at your work?
    • What happens when someone gets to their early 60s?
    • Do you know what your employer thinks/would think about you continuing work?
    • Has your employer given you any information, counselling or support regarding the retirement planning process and pensions (eg pensions forecasts and financial planning)?
    • What kind of information would be useful, when and from whom?
  • Is there anything that might persuade you to keep working for a little longer?
  • Is there anything that your employer is doing, or could do, that would encourage you to carry on working?
    • flexible working hours
    • reduced hours
    • change of job description
    • training
    • Which of these would you say would be the most important to you? Why is that?
  • Are you aware of whether or not your employer is involved in any initiatives designed to support workers? E.g. Carer Positive scheme, Family Friendly Working Scotland, National Living Wage, Individual learning accounts?
    • Have you benefitted personally from these schemes?
    • Do you think that there ought to be schemes specifically designed to support older workers? Probe reasons for yes/no; probe what sort of thing would be helpful
  • What about the government - is there anything they could do to enable you to stay at work for longer?
    • pension changes,
    • tax incentives,

Views on retirement

  • How do you feel about retirement?
  • Do you have any plans for how you will spend your time once you have retired?
  • For you personally, what would be a "good" retirement?
  • What are you looking forward to the most?
  • Can you see yourself doing any work after you retire? Why/why not?
  • Is there anything that would prompt you to consider working again once you have retired?

7. Financial implications of retirement

  • Thinking about when you retire, how do you feel about your future financial situation?
    • What sort of provision do you have for your pension?
    • What do you think about the state pension?
    • When will you be entitled to claim your state pension?
    • Do you feel that you have enough information about your pension and about different benefits that you might be entitled to?
      • Prompt: Pension Credit
      • If not: are you aware of the advice services you could contact to find out?
    • Will you have any financial commitments - e.g. housing/family?
    • Do you think you'll be better or worse off than you are now?

8. Finishing up

I'm just about coming to the end of my questions now. We've talked a lot about your own experiences today.

  • Just to finish up, I wonder what you think about the fact that the government is encouraging people to work longer - by abolishing the retirement age, and increasing the age at which people can claim their state pensions?
  • How long do you think people should carry on working nowadays?
  • Is there anything else you'd like to say about working and retirement that we haven't yet covered?

Thanks; questionnaire; gift voucherOlder people and Employment Life Grid: Key events in my life

Research Participant code:


Date of birth/age:

Age Educational & other qualifications or skills Marriage and Partnerships Periods of dependent children or other caring Work history, type of work Voluntary work/volunteering Other significant life events e.g. major health events or major location moves





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