Be older but don't look it: The older body at work as a social-symbolic object

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Workers over 50 are currently being encouraged to extend their working lives through economic, social and moral imperatives. The identity of an ‘older worker’ is currently gaining interest in organisational and management literature as employers engage with an emerging age-inclusion agenda. While blanket policies at government and organisational levels address broad issues around working longer, there remains an underexplored understanding of how older workers themselves experience work in later life. The appearance of the ageing body, despite its centrality in the experience of ageing, is conspicuously absent from organisational and management literature. This exploratory, qualitative study of 29 participants from Edinburgh, UK, sought to explore how older workers engage with work, view working beyond 50 and approach age-inclusion and exclusion through the appearance of their ageing bodies. Findings suggest a crucial role of and distinction between perception of self and others in how workers over 50 engaged with a highly contextualised workplace, and further that perceptions of age(ing) drew a distinction between healthy and economic ageing at work. The ageing body is presented in this article as a social-symbolic object, through which social-symbolic work was conducted by workers in terms of resources, motivations and situatedness in informing how self-work influenced labour force participation decisions around workplace inclusion and self-exclusion.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages26
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 7 Apr 2021
Event37th EGOS Colloquium 2021 - Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU) - Online, Amsterdam , Netherlands
Duration: 8 Jul 202110 Jul 2021


Conference37th EGOS Colloquium 2021
Internet address


  • ageing body at work
  • older worker
  • social-symbolic object
  • identity


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