Training Practices Targeting Employees aged 50 and above in Austrian Organizations

An Human Resources Management Perspective

Bachelor Thesis, 2015
61 Pages, Grade: Sehr Gut


Table of contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Problem statement
1.2 Research questions
1.3 Purpose of the research
1.4 Outline

2 Theoretical background

3 Method
3.1 Description and justification of the methodology
3.2 Description of the data collection
3.3 Description of the data analysis
3.4 Description of the quantitative research
3.4.1 Selection of the sample
3.4.2 Hypotheses
3.4.3 Survey design
3.4.4 Implementation

4 The empirical study
4.1 Results and interpretation
4.1.1 Socio-demographic data
4.1.2 Demographic change
4.1.3 Access to training
4.1.4 Training methods for older employees
4.1.5 Age awareness & age diversity
4.1.6 Hypotheses testing

5 Conclusion

6 Summary



List of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

List of figures

Figure 1: Completion rate of surveys per day

Figure 2: Organizational size classified by manpower groups

Figure 3: Industry distribution

Figure 4: Majority of employees represented by age groups in organizations

Figure 5: Ratio of organizations with employees over 50

Figure 6: Manpower ratio of employees over 50 in organizations - scaled

Figure 7: Manpower ratio of employees over 50 by industry

Figure 8: Indicators of the demographic change in organizations

Figure 9: Demographic change indicators by industry

Figure 10: Importance to counteract the demographic change in organizations

Figure 11: Training opportunities for older employees in organizations

Figure 12: Importance of adequate training opportunities by industry

Figure 13: Ratio of all employees’ training attendance in 2014 - scaled

Figure 14: Ratio of all employees who attended training in 2014 by industry

Figure 15: Ratio of employees over 50 who attended training in 2014 by industry

Figure 16: Increase of training attendance of employees over 50 in the last 3-5 years

Figure 17: Consideration of older workers’ learning needs and styles in training methods

Figure 18: Adaption of training methods for older workers by industry

Figure 19: Knowledge transfer instruments in organizations

Figure 20: Overall perception of older employees in organizations

Figure 21: HRM perception of older employees in organizations

Figure 22: Attributes given to older employees by HRM

Figure 23: Management of age diversity in organizations

Figure 24: Management of age diversity by industry

Figure 25: Training intensity of organizations by industry

List of tables

Table 1: Plausibility check of the data

Table 2: Chronological order of the field phase

Table 3: Gender ratio of respondents

Table 4: Position of the respondents

Table 5: Ratio of employees over 50’ training attendance in organizations in 2014

Table 6: Mann-Whitney-U-Test for two independent samples

Table 7: Kruskal-Wallis-H-Test for more independent samples

1 Introduction

This thesis examines whether employers are providing training specifically targeting older employees and to what extent Austrian organizations are targeting their training practices to older employees, from an HR management perspective. The results of the bachelor thesis one are used as a basis for the following examination.

1.1 Problem statement

It is a fact that the demographic change is progressing and the society is aging (Field, Burke, & Cooper, 2013, p. 283). Already today the biggest share of the Austrian workforce is aged 45 years and older (“,” 2015). This is due to high birth rates back in 1963 and a steadily declining fertility rate thereafter (“,” 2014). The aging of our society – as a result of lower birth rates and higher life expectancies - does not remain without consequences. It will create problems for our economy in the future if organizations do not adapt their HRM policies accordingly in time. With regard to the demographic change, it will become increasingly important for organizations to deal with staff development targeted at employees aged 50 and above. There is a huge potential and need to keep this age group in employment to sustain the Austrian economy. Organizations will have to rely on people over 50, keep them longer in the working process and have to start rethinking their recruitment and retention strategy in order to stay competitive in the future (Armstrong-Stassen & Lee, 2009, p. 1756).

1.2 Research questions

The main research question is “To what extent are training practices targeted at older employees in Austrian organizations from an HRM perspective ?”

To respond to this subject matter, the following sub-questions were set up:

- Is there a correlation between organizations in industries with more or fewer employees over 50 and the importance to counteract the progress of the demographic change?
- To what extent is the availability of age appropriate training opportunities dependent on the existence of older employees in the workforce?
- How does the importance to implement adequate training opportunities differ in industries?
- Is there a connection between the overall perception of older employees in organizations and industries?
- How does the number of older employees in organizations differ in industries?

Following these sub-questions, hypotheses were set up which are defined in chapter 3.4.2.

1.3 Purpose of the research

The purpose of this thesis is to raise awareness on an organizational level about the age shift in the workforce structure. Based on a thorough literature review an increasing number of older employees is available on the labour market that needs to be adequately equipped with skills in order to stay employable. Through continuous development of employees, organizations can then rely on this labour force to overcome manpower shortages and offer recruitment for older employees to fill headcount gaps. In this regard, the empirical study assesses the extent to which Human Resources (HR) managers are responding to the three key areas - (1) access to training; (2) adaption of training methods and the learning environment to meet the needs, preferences, and learning behaviour of older employees; and (3) managers’ awareness trainings - to retain older employees. The study also examines the extent to which Austrian organizations are currently engaging in the training and development practices to support an environment where continuous learning and career development is a reality for all age groups.

1.4 Outline

This thesis is divided into six chapters. The first chapter introduces the topic by dealing with the problem statement, the research questions and the purpose of the study. In the second chapter, the subject matter is examined through the theory of the bachelor thesis one. In the third chapter, the methodical approach is explained in detail starting with the justification of the methodology to the description of the quantitative research including the selection of the sample, creation of hypotheses, design of the survey and the implementation thereof. The fourth chapter deals with the analysis and interpretation of the empirical results, structured in six parts: the socio-demographic data; the demographic change; access to training; training methods for older employees; age awareness and age diversity; as well as the hypotheses testing. The fifth and sixth chapters include the conclusion and final summary and attached to this is the bibliography and the annex with further statistical analysis; the email invitation for the survey; and the questionnaire.

2 Theoretical background

A thorough literature review reveals that due to the demographic change employees are aging and fewer younger employees are entering the labour market (Aaltio, Salminen, & Koponen, 2014, p. 160; von Bonsdorff, 2011, p. 1262).

In 2015, 38.6% of the Austrian workforce is 45 years and older (“,” 2015). At present, organizations are confronted with the retirement of the baby boom generation (born between 1946-1964); a lack of qualified employees; and an increase in the average age of employees (Field et al., 2013, p. 2; Schönberg, 2012, pp. 188–189). Organizations cannot afford to discard older employees by sending them into early retirement or by laying them off which was common practice during the economic recession (Bosch & Schief, 2007, p. 582; Hedge, Borman, & Lammlein, 2006, p. 161; Van Dalen, Henkens, & Schippers, 2009, p. 58). Therefore, organizations need to retain their human resources to fill key positions through succession planning and retain older employees to secure valuable knowledge and experience by passing it on to younger employees (Beck, 2012, p. 208; Bender, 2010, p. 176; Schönberg, 2012, p. 197). Organizations should avail themselves of older workers’ skill sets gained over the years and encourage knowledge transfer between generations (Beck, 2012, p. 208; Fuertes, Egdell, & McQuaid, 2013, p. 275; Hedge et al., 2006, p. 104).

As the demographic change progresses, organizations may also take advantage of the labour resources available on the market and recruit more and more employees over 50 (Armstrong-Stassen & Templer, 2005, p. 58). Older employees are available to fill headcount gaps but to overcome manpower shortages, hiring and retaining older workers is not the first choice of employers (Van Dalen et al., 2009, p. 55). In order to counteract this phenomenon it is important to extend working lives and keep older workers employable through life-long learning practices (Field et al., 2013, p. 17; Fuertes et al., 2013, p. 273). Studies report that life-long learning opportunities have a positive impact on the employment rate of older employees. Through continuous learning, existing skills are updated and new skills are gained which is relevant to maintain the employability (Field et al., 2013, pp. 214–215).

At present, older employees are those furthest away from the labour market and difficult to place, often because their skills and knowledge are out of date (Beck, 2012, p. 207). HR managers are faced with the dilemma that an increasing number of older workers is available on the labour market with obsolete qualifications for positions that need to be filled (Beck, 2012, p. 205; Field et al., 2013, p. 213). For a long time, they have not been considered for training opportunities due to their age which ends in a vicious circle (Dobischat & Schurgatz, 2011, p. 84; Hedge et al., 2006, pp. 143–144). At present, older employees have less access to adequate training programs and are seen with less potential for learning and development (Beck, 2012, p. 204). There are many negative stereotypes regarding the “trainability” of older workers, which may reduce their training access (Field et al., 2013, p. 284; Maurer, 2001, p. 131). A persistent age stereotype is that older workers are not worth investing in training because they are viewed as not trainable; reluctant to participate in training and there is not enough time left in their career to benefit from it (Beck, 2012, p. 205; Hedge et al., 2006, pp. 137–139). The reason older employees are participating less in training programs is either because of individual unwillingness or employer’s neglect to motivate them to participate (Beck, 2012, p. 204; Hedge et al., 2006, p. 106). According to the literature, the participation in ‘traditional’ development activities generally decreases with age and employees over 50 barely participate in training programs (Beck, 2012, p. 203; Maurer, 2001, p. 123; Van Dalen et al., 2009, p. 56). The lower participation rate of older employees results from a decline in self-efficacy for career-relevant training as they fear disclosure of skill and qualification deficits especially in classroom-based settings. Negative self-perception and previous negative experiences with training lead to the impression that older employees are not willing or have difficulties to learn (Becker, 2011, p. 203; Maurer, 2001, p. 123). Research on training activities showed that compared to younger workers, older workers are slower at learning new tasks, show less training mastery, and need more time to complete training programs (Field et al., 2013, p. 284; Hedge et al., 2006, p. 141; Themistocleous, Koumaditis, Mantzana, & Morabito, 2010, p. 2; Walter, 2011, p. 40). Therefore, a growing literature suggests a tailored training design and environment to meet the needs, preferences, and learning behaviour of older employees (Hedge et al., 2006, p. 138 f.; Themistocleous et al., 2010, p. 2). Training programs are often not designed and tailored to the particular needs of an aging workforce, thus older people show less interest (Armstrong-Stassen & Templer, 2005, p. 58; Beck, 2012, p. 203; Hedge & Borman, 2012, p. 145). In fact, older workers are interested in trainings that are job-related and practical with a suitable learning environment for different age groups (Hedge et al., 2006, p. 141; Themistocleous et al., 2010, p. 3; Vanmullem & Hondeghem, 2007, p. 4). Experienced employees have valuable institutional know-how to build on; are trainable in a different setting; need the support of management to pursue training and are keen to extend their working lives to maintain their living standard (Armstrong-Stassen & Templer, 2005, p. 65; Hedge & Borman, 2012, pp. 145–146).

Armstrong-Stassen & Templer (2005, p. 58) identified three key development areas with regard to training practices for older employees: (1) access to training; (2) adjustment of training methods to older employees; (3) and age awareness trainings for management. Armstrong-Stassen & Templer (2005, pp. 57–64) examined three studies from 1991 to 2003 and made their conclusions for Canadian companies on how they respond to adapting training for older employees. Their research findings showed that the awareness of HR executives increased with the importance of effective development and staffing of older employees. Nevertheless, neither in 2001 nor in 2003 Canadian organizations did highly engage in the training practices for older employees. Employers often do not want older employees to be away for training purposes because they are too valuable in their current job and superiors fear loss of productivity without them (Beck, 2012, p. 205; Themistocleous et al., 2010, p. 1). The costs of lost productivity, along with shorter payback periods, lead employers to avoid investing in their older workers (Field et al., 2013, p. 284; Hedge et al., 2006, p. 137).

Employers need to offer training programs addressing age diversity issues when employees of different ages are working together. One way to address this is to provide age awareness trainings to managers along with training on how to effectively manage older employees (Walker, 2005, p. 694). Research findings state, however, that hardly any organizations are currently doing this (Hedge et al., 2006, p. 138).

In Austria, little attention has been paid to whether employers are making an attempt to adjust the training methods and the learning environment to meet the needs, preferences, and learning behaviour of older employees. Therefore the status quo of training practices for older employees in view of the three key development areas in Austrian organizations is examined from the view of HR managers.

3 Method

The following chapter provides a comprehensive overview of the entire research design. A closer look is drawn on the description and justification of the methodology, the data collection, the data analysis as well as the description of the quantitative research.

3.1 Description and justification of the methodology

The purpose of the study is to survey the opinion of HR managers to explore the status quo to what extent organizations are currently responding to training programs for older employees in Austrian organizations. The methodology used is a quantitative research to collect numerical data to explain a particular phenomenon. The objective is to develop hypotheses with regard to the phenomenon which is described in chapter 3.4.2 (Muijs, 2010, pp. 1–7; Raithel, 2006, p. 32). The established hypotheses are tested in several organizations which means that the research design is a comparative analysis (Nohl, 2007, p. 255). Quantitative research is good at providing information from a large number of units and is best for looking at cause and effect. The process of measurement provides the fundamental connection between empirical observation and mathematical expression of quantitative relationships. In quantitative research, numerical data is collected and analysed using mathematically based methods such as statistics (Muijs, 2010, p. 2). A situation is described by using descriptive statistics, whereas inferential statistics is used to explain relationships (Hienerth, Huber, & Süssenbacher, 2009, p. 133; Muijs, 2010, p. 7). This means to ask specific, narrow questions to a sample and to collect numerical data from this sample to answer the research question (Hienerth et al., 2009, p. 114; Muijs, 2010, pp. 6, 276). The results of the numbers will provide an unbiased outcome that can be ascribed to some larger population (Raithel, 2006, pp. 53–61).

3.2 Description of the data collection

Quantitative research collects numerical data to explain a particular phenomenon (Muijs, 2010, p. 2). The data collection instrument is a survey established with the online software tool Unipark. All participants are asked the same questions which creates a standardised interview situation for the sample group (Hienerth et al., 2009, pp. 112–116). The questions in the survey are derived from the hypotheses which were operationalized along the three key areas (1) access to training; (2) adjustment of training methods to older employees; and (3) age awareness trainings for management (Muijs, 2010, p. 8). The answers are ranked with numbers (1 for “does not apply at all”, 4 for “fully applies”) and the numeric results are set in context to each other in order to test the hypotheses (Muijs, 2010, p. 2; Raithel, 2006). The participants received an email invitation with a link to fill out the online questionnaire; which is attached to the annex (Jackob, Schoen, & Zerback, 2009, p. 76).

3.3 Description of the data analysis

The collected data was transferred from Unipark into a data file and evaluated in the statistics program SPSS Version 21. The data was analysed descriptively using frequency distributions, statistical variation (median), ratios (cross tables), measures of central tendencies (mean value and standard deviation) and inferential statistical methods (Chi square c2) to evaluate hypotheses (Jackob et al., 2009, p. 109). The results were assessed with a significance level of 95% (a=0.05; p=95%). The data was put in context with each other to draw a conclusion on the conducted research (Raithel, 2006, p. 29). All data was verified of consistency, integrity and plausibility. The plausibility of values was verified in cases with discrepancies in the data (Jackob et al., 2009, pp. 117, 292, 122). Case number 104 contained a non-credible value which was set to missing value (sysmis); in case number 11, 35, 60, 68, 72, 95 missing values were replaced by doing a mean value imputation with the available background information. Case number 156 stated that 20 employees over 50 attended training although it has only 2 employees over 50 – these values were reversed, under the assumption that the fields were filled out incorrectly. These concerned 8 out of 108 cases (see table 1, new values are in italic).

Table 1: Plausibility check of the data

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: compiled by the author

In figures 8, 11, 17, 19, 21 and 23, the parameter values “fully applies” and “partially applies” were combined and redefined as “applicable”; and the values “does rather not apply” and “does not apply at all” were combined and redefined as “not applicable”. Answers with “do not know” were excluded and set as missing values.

3.4 Description of the quantitative research

Before going into detail with the results and interpretation of the empirical study, this section should provide relevant information on the selection of the sample, the derivation of the hypotheses and the construction of the survey. In addition, the details of the implementation process of the survey will be described.

3.4.1 Selection of the sample

The research object comprises of HR managers in Austrian companies who are responsible for the areas training & development. This role may vary from organization to organization depending on the total size of employees and can be carried out by different roles such as the HR manager; person responsible for employee development or the managing director. The participants were selected by using the attendance list of the Future of Work (FOW) conference which took place in March 2014, as they represent precisely the target group. The chosen target group are HR managers in Austrian organizations. It would have been also interesting to interview older employees instead but this would have been too difficult to get useful results from a good sample. The focus of the study lies on the extent to which Austrian organizations (1) are sensitive about the aforementioned three key development areas; and (2) are already operating their training initiatives in this regard. This information can best be retrieved from HR managers to get findings on the status quo.

3.4.2 Hypotheses

The hypotheses were formed according to the research questions in chapter 1.2.

According to the literature, the organizations’ role is to motivate older employees for development activities, to design training that addresses the needs, abilities and motivation of older workers in order to maximize the learning transfer on the job (Hedge & Borman, 2012, p. 450). There is sound evidence about the restraint of training access; the use of inappropriate training methods; the need to tailor the training design for older workers and the importance of age awareness trainings for managers (Armstrong-Stassen & Templer, 2005, p. 58).

Hypothesis 1: There are more age appropriate training opportunities in organizations that have employees over 50 years in the workforce than in organizations that have not.

In an European study of employers that have older workers, the results showed that those with a large number of older employees in their workforce are more willing to hire and keep older workers than “young” organizations. This suggests that the readiness to prepare for the consequences of the demographic change is better achieved in aging organizations (Van Dalen et al., 2009, p. 56).

Hypothesis 2: Organizations of industries with a high number of older employees in the workforce find it more important to counteract the demographic change than organizations of industries with a little number of older employees.

The results of the empirical study are discussed in chapter 4.1.6.

3.4.3 Survey design

For the survey design, the explorative research questions and hypotheses were operationalized (Mayer, 2006, pp. 75–79). From there the survey questions were derived and set in groups for each of the following four dimensions.

Demographic change

In this introductory part, the progress of the demographic change in organizations as well as the importance to do something about it are examined to obtain an overview of how demographic change is perceived.

Access to training

The second part starts with a set of questions regarding training opportunities for older employees in organizations to get a status quo of what is already in place or not. Also, the importance of appropriate training opportunities for older employees in the view of HR experts is determined. The next two questions are targeted at the training participation of employees in 2014 - first how many employees in total attended training; second how many employees over 50 attended training. These two questions were optional to be filled out, in case the respondent did not know the correct number. Furthermore, it is examined whether the training participation of employees over 50 has increased in the last three to five years.

Adjusted training methods for older employees

The first set of questions deals with age appropriated training methods to respond to older workers’ learning needs and styles. The next group of questions aims at the learning transfer and HRM perception with regard to older employees followed by a question block targeted at the knowledge transfer in organizations. The last two questions in this category deal with the perception of older employees: how they are seen in general in organizations and which characteristics HR managers would ascribe to older employees.

Age awareness & age diversity

This category starts with a block of questions how age diversity is managed in organizations, to see if there are certain measures in place to promote age awareness among employees and managers.

Socio-demographic data

This concluding part comprises questions to the following socio-demographic data: number of employees; number of employees over 50; average age group of employees; industry; position; company affiliation; gender and age of the respondent. At the bottom of the survey there is a field for comments and feedback.

In the next step the questions were formed with the respective scale values. Each set of questions has answers on a 5-point scale of “fully applies”, “partially applies”, “does rather not apply”, “does not apply at all” and “do not know”. Respondents were asked to check the parameter that best describes their organization and have the opportunity to say “do not know” to prevent random answers.

In principle it can be distinguished between closed, open-ended and half open-ended question types. Closed questions have ready-made answers to choose from; open-ended questions are entered into an empty field and for half open-ended questions there is an additional field for a free answer next to the ready-made answers (Hienerth et al., 2009, p. 114; Mayer, 2006, pp. 82–100).

The survey was mainly designed with closed questions with four exceptions for open-ended questions - for the total number of employees and the number of employees that went on training; and the same also for employees over 50. This was necessary to ensure valid ratio analysis afterwards. As some of the respondents might not know the correct number, these fields were optional to be filled out.

The survey contains 70 questions in total and is attached to the annex.

3.4.4 Implementation

The survey was sent out to 13 test persons of whom 8 provided their feedback with comments. The pre-test candidates were selected fellow students and work colleagues who work in HR and have the relevant know-how about the subject. They were asked to provide their feedback according to the clarity of questions and average completion time. The changes were implemented before the survey was sent out to the target group.

The target group was reached via email and social networks (Xing, Facebook, Yammer) according to the participant list of the Future of Work (FOW) conference in March 2014. The e-mail addresses were looked up on the internet and on the company websites of the participant’s employer.


Excerpt out of 61 pages


Training Practices Targeting Employees aged 50 and above in Austrian Organizations
An Human Resources Management Perspective
Universities of Applied Sciences Wien  (Personal & Organisation)
Sehr Gut
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
2717 KB
Older employees, Weiterbildung, Training, Employees over 50, Knowledge Transfer, Demographic change, Training practices
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Raffaela Hartl (Author), 2015, Training Practices Targeting Employees aged 50 and above in Austrian Organizations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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