The worn-out syndrome: Uncertainties in late working life triggering retirement decisions

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In recent decades, the extension of individuals’ working life has been construed as an important policy issue in Western Europe. Here, retirement causes have been thoroughly researched in a quantitative way, but there is a dearth of qualitative studies on the subject. Through ethnographic fieldwork, we study the complex pathways that lead to the retirement of senior employees in the finance and production industries in Denmark. In particular in the finance industry, we find an insidious uncertainty haunting senior employees regarding their capacity and reputation. We term this uncertainty worn-out syndrome, demonstrating how many interlocutors fear that they are beginning to be seen as worn out, for example, less productive, less motivated, and too old to work. To some extent, this syndrome resembles the impostor syndrome, but it differs in one important aspect: the senior employees are mostly confident about their own skills. Worn-out syndrome is triggered by stereotypes and implicit ageist remarks by colleagues and managers. We show that the worn-out syndrome appears in at least three different ways: as a fear of already being worn out, as a fear of being perceived as worn out by colleagues and managers, and as a fear of becoming worn out in the future without realizing it in time. We argue that current retirement decisions are often fueled by this syndrome and that it leads to abrupt and untimely retirement decisions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0282905
Issue number3
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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