Older people and employment in Scotland: research

An examination of attitudes and issues surrounding an older workforce.

Chapter 2: Research Methods

2.1 Research design

The research was based on a combination of:

  • 42 semi-structured interviews with older people (n=44 in total, as two interviews were with couples), of which 33 were face to face interviews and 9 were telephone interviews.
  • 4 focus groups with employers (n=11)
  • 10 telephone interviews with employers

The following sections provide an overview of the strategies used to recruit older people and employers to the study.

2.2 Sampling and recruitment of older people

A purposive sampling approach was used in order to achieve the diversity of sample group requested by the Scottish Government. A recruitment flyer advertising for research participants was developed and disseminated via an extensive network of contacts including Family Friendly Working Scotland, Voices of Carers Across Lothian, Scottish Trades Union Congress, Scottish Commission for Older Women, W1 Minority Ethnic Women in Scotland. These organisations advertised the research through a range of communication channels, such as newsletters, emails and social media. In order to recruit individuals working in low-paid, low-skill occupations, the research team sought permission to advertise the study amongst cleaning staff and janitors at the University of Edinburgh.

In addition to these methods of recruitment, hard copies of recruitment flyers and posters were distributed via Citizen's Advice Bureaux, supermarkets and other retailers located throughout Edinburgh. Once fieldwork was underway, snowballing techniques were adopted to recruit further research participants via individuals who had already consented to take part in the study.

All individuals who contacted the research team to indicate that they were interested in participating in the research were sent a plain-English information sheet about the study. This gave more details about the study aims along with an outline of topics that would be covered in the interviews. Individuals were also asked to complete a screening questionnaire, which contained questions relating to their age, marital status, employment status and occupation, housing tenure, caring responsibilities and household income. During the recruitment phase of the research, this socio-demographic information was reviewed on a daily basis, in order to monitor the diversity of the sample group and to ensure, as far as possible, that the sample group included men and women with the following characteristics:

  • different age groups (50-64, 65+)
  • different household types
  • household incomes spread across the income distribution
  • employed within in a range of sectors
  • diversity of employment status: full-time; part-time; self-employed; unemployed.

In total, seventy individuals responded to the recruitment flyer, and forty-four people were selected to participate in the study. The study included two interviews with married couples, which means that the total number of interviews conducted with older people is forty-two.

2.2.1 Overview of the older people sample group

Socio-demographic profile

Forty-four individuals were recruited to the older people sample group. This figure includes two couples, and thus forty-two interviews were conducted in total. Tables 1-7 in Annex A provide demographic information about the sample group.

In terms of gender ( Table 1), women comprised two-thirds of the interviewees. The majority of participants (61%; n=27) were married ( Table 2). Most were employed, on a full or part-time basis, although the sample also included some self-employed and unemployed individuals ( Table 3). There was a bias towards those working in associate professional and technical occupations ( Table 4), but an even spread of the distribution of the sample according to the Scottish household income deciles [7] ( Table 5). Women were more likely than men to have formal caring responsibilities ( Table 6). Almost all of the participants identified as White; three participants were South Asian ( Table 7).

Seven of the older people in the sample group received a state pension. Of these, six participants worked part-time, and one worked full-time.

Current employment status

Of the thirty women in the study, twenty-four were in paid employment, five were self-employed; and one was not currently in paid employment due to a health condition, but was seeking work. Fourteen women worked in the third sector, in roles such as advice workers, project managers and office staff. Eight were employed in the public sector in a range of roles, such as social work, receptionist and cleaner. Seven women worked in the private sector, as retail staff, office workers, and factory machine operatives.

Of the fourteen men in the study, nine were in paid employment, two were self-employed, and three were unemployed and looking for work. Four men worked in the public sector, in roles such as cleaner, janitor, public administration. Four men worked in the private sector, as retail staff, office worker and factory machine operatives. Three men worked in the third sector, in financial administration and business roles.

2.2.2 Semi-structured interviews

Prior to the start of each interview, participants were given the opportunity to ask any questions they may have had about the research. In line with ethics regulations and guidelines, all participants were required to sign a consent form (or grant verbal consent, in the case of telephone interviews), indicating that: they understood the purpose of the research; they agreed to take part in the research; they gave their permission to digitally record the interview; and they understood that they were entitled to withdraw from the research at any time, without having to state a reason for withdrawal.

Interview topic guides were used for all interviews; these were developed in consultation with the Research Advisory Group ( RAG), and were based upon the research themes identified within the research brief. Life grids were used as a tool to facilitate discussion of participants' family and work histories and other salient life events. Annex D contains interview topics guides and life grids used with older people. Interviews explored the following topics with participants:

Those currently in work

Details of current employment (nature, quality, training opportunities, flexibility)

  • Work history
  • Attitudes towards their job and employment more generally
  • Other life domains, such as health, domestic and caring responsibilities, financial position, and how these interact with individuals' employment experiences
  • Plans and expectations (work and retirement)
  • Factors affecting choice (work and retirement)
  • Impact of rising state pension age
  • Perceptions and experiences of poor/good employment practice
  • Future work opportunities

For those participants who were self-employed, we additionally explored reasons for becoming self-employed.

Those not in work

  • Details of most recent employment
  • Work history
  • Exiting work - how; when; why
  • Factors affecting decision to leave employment
  • Possibility of re-entering employment/identification of opportunities
  • Other life domains, such as health, domestic and caring responsibilities, financial position
  • Impact of rising state pension age
  • Factors affecting choices around work and retirement
  • Perceptions and experiences of poor/good employment practice

All interviewees were given a £15 voucher, to thank them for donating their time to the research. Where couples were interviewed, each participant was given a voucher. All participants were also given an advice and information sheet after their interview (see Annex E).

2.3 Recruitment of employers

In order to recruit a wide range of employers, we drew on the University of Edinburgh Business School ( UEBS)'s extensive list of contacts. The UEBS Corporate Engagement Manager and the Student Development Team provided crucial support in liaising with employers and inviting them to participate in the study. Recruitment of employers was also facilitated by a key contact within Carers Scotland.

2.3.1 Employer sample

The sample of employers incorporated a wide range of sectors, activities and employer sizes, providing rich insight into the current issues, challenges and opportunities around an ageing workforce in Scotland. The following sectors and activities were represented:

  • Public sector healthcare
  • Retail
  • Oil and Gas industry
  • The voluntary sector
  • Manufacturing
  • Hospitality and hotel industry
  • HR outsourcing for SMEs
  • Local government
  • Utility company
  • Financial services
  • Private care company
  • Scottish Government
  • SMEs (retail, business transformation)

2.3.2 Employer focus groups and telephone interviews

We conducted four focus groups of employers, in order to explore their views of the opportunities and challenges associated with the employment of workers beyond state pension age. These were held in the form of breakfast meetings at the University of Edinburgh Business School. Each focus group contained between two and four participants. In addition, thirty-minute telephone interviews were conducted with a further ten employer representatives who had been unable to attend the focus groups.

Employer focus groups and telephone interviews explored the following topics with participants:

  • Workforce details - size, age profile, tenure, skills distribution
  • Current approaches to managing later-life king (including training, career development, retirement planning)
  • Pensions provision
  • Challenges and opportunities of an ageing and/or age-diverse workforce
  • Potential forms of support from Scottish Government that employers would find useful in order to respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by an ageing workforce.

A full employer topic guide is provided in Annex F.

2.4 Approach to data analysis

All interviews and focus groups were digitally recorded and fully transcribed. Data storage, coding and analysis was supported by the use of Nvivo 11. A data coding framework was constructed based upon both the interview topic guide and close reading of initial interview transcripts. Thematic analysis of the interview data was undertaken in order to address the key research questions outlined in the brief. This approach allowed for a structured and theoretically underpinned approach to qualitative data analysis.

2.5 Study Limitations

As with most qualitative studies there were inevitably some limitations associated with the composition of the sample groups. Therefore, in interpreting and using the study findings, it is important to keep the following issues in mind:

  • Recruiting a sufficiently diverse older people sample group was challenging within the timescale of the study. It was not possible, for example, to achieve equal numbers of participants aged 50-64 and 65+.
  • It proved difficult to recruit as many men as women to the study. The reasons for this are unclear.
  • A further limitation of the older people sample group was the limited geographical diversity. Most participants lived in Edinburgh and the Lothians, with a handful of participants from other Scottish local authority areas including Fife, Moray and Glasgow.
  • Organisations who are not interested in older workers or an ageing workforce were less likely to have participated in the research. Nevertheless, the participating employers represented the full spectrum of employment across Scotland, offering valuable insights.

These limitations reflect a trade-off between achieving the proposed sample group size within the specified timescale.


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