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The historical development of the concept of work ability in Hungary

According to the Hungarian Explanatory Dictionary, a person is able to work if their physical and mental health, and physical condition allow them to work.[1] The correlations between work and health have been known for thousands of years. The work environment poses risks to health and safety that significantly outweigh the effects of other human environments, especially concerning occupational health. In Hungary, in the early 1900s, the conceptual basis of work ability was health impairment and its effects on the ability to work, which initially was mainly related to insurance. The introduction of new machines and technologies has increased the rate of accidents and occupational diseases, drawing attention to the health of employees. First, a 1907 law articulates the need for medical professionals to determine health impairment[2]. Then, in 1927, another law expands the previous scope of activities to include the examination of disability as a task of medical professionals[3]. After World War II, the definition of work ability was mainly based on economic interests and was limited to disability resulting from war injuries. From 1970, prevention also came to the fore regarding work ability and related services. From the 1990s, in addition to primary prevention activities, health preservation also appears in the work of occupational health services. The further stage of development of occupational health is characterized by the preference for primary prevention and health preservation[4].

There is no legal definition for the concept of work ability, but it is closely linked to the definition of altered work ability. In practice, until the mid-1990s, the concept of altered work ability focused on lost abilities (e.g., “reduced ability to work"). According to a 1983 decree, which has since been repealed: a person with altered work ability is an employee, who, due to deterioration in their health, has become permanently unfit to perform full-value work in their original job without rehabilitation measures[5]. The system of occupational rehabilitation has been transformed over the last twenty years. The changes require a new, needs-based approach from medical doctors, labour-related professionals, social workers, experts, alternative service organizations, employers, and, last but not least, from people with altered work ability. The emphasis has shifted to exploring remaining abilities (and their development if possible) under the framework of a complex rehabilitation process (medical, psychological, psychic, training-related, employment-related).

In Hungary, according to the Employment Act “a person with altered work ability: a person with physical or mental disability, or whose chances of employment and job retention after medical rehabilitation decrease due to physical or mental impairment."[6] Under the Act CXCI of 2011 on benefits for persons with disabilities and amendment of certain acts, a person is entitled to benefits, and can be defined as an employee with altered work ability if their state of health during the complex qualification procedure is 60 per cent or less and they have a defined period of insurance[7]. The 2011 census defines a person with disability (by their own admission) as having a permanent, lifelong physical, mental, intelligence or sensory disability, whether or not it impedes the performance of socially expected activities. In Hungary, the European Union Labour Force Survey, which is also used by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, considers people with altered work ability to be disadvantaged in the labour market due to their permanent health problems, illness or other (physical, sensory, intellectual, etc.) limitations. A permanent disease is a health impairment that cannot be cured at the time of the survey but can be treated with drugs or other therapies[8].

Accordingly, both the term disabled person and person with altered work ability are used. As early as 2012, the Hungarian Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights addressed the problem of the diversity of concepts and their different uses in different disciplines. In addition to people with disabilities, the concept of people with altered work ability includes people with impaired health, making the group quite complex and having different characteristics[9].

Nowadays, the concept of work ability in Hungary follows a holistic approach. It is not identical but contains several analogous elements with the definition of employability used in the labour market. According to this, employability includes “individual factors", basic attributes, general skills and work-related knowledge. In addition, “personal circumstances" which include a range of socio-economic factors relating to the individual’s social and household situation, as well as “external factors" affecting a person’s employability, these include labour market demand conditions and support for employment-related public services[10]. According to the definition of work ability, a person is able to work only if they have at least one subset of abilities and skills, which is coupled with the physical, mental and social health necessary for the utilization of this competence. The individual has some professional skills, possesses specific qualities for the job, which are necessary to perform the goals (and/or work tasks) to be achieved through their work at least in normal quality. This depends on the person doing the work, working conditions and the work task. A person’s work ability is therefore a dynamic trait, as all three components can vary[11].

Work ability is thus a balance of workplace requirements and individual resources that take into account factors outside the workplace, such as family and society. While the nature, quantity, and organization of work, as well as the work environment and work community all influence workplace requirements, individual resources depend on health, competence, values, attitudes, and motivation.

Demographic development

In Hungary, as in other European countries, aging population poses a number of new policy challenges to employment, working conditions, living standards, health and well-being. At the same time, this trend also reflects a positive aspect of social change and the importance of active aging. Since the monetary crisis of 2009, in the accelerating economic competition, and in the transformed labour market, which shows a significant increase in demand, workers and jobseekers who belong to older age groups continue to be part of the vulnerable, disadvantaged population. Assisting their employability, maintaining their work ability, motivating their rehabilitation and their return to work can be crucial for both society and the economy.

Population size and expected development

The population of Hungary shows a continuously decreasing trend, in 2019 the population was 9,772,756 (9,769,529 in January 2020). Compared to the last ten years, we have experienced a loss of more than 200,000 people. The determining factor of population decline is natural decline, including a decrease in birth rate. Average life expectancy at birth has shown a slowly increasing trend over the last decade, with 72.86 years for men and 79.33 years for women in 2019[12]. 17.1% of the total population is over the age of 65, the aging index is 132.5, and the dependency rate of the elderly population is 30.3%. Population decline is not expected to stop, various model calculations put the expected population size between 8 and 9 million in 2050. In particular, the basic model puts the expected number of the Hungarian population at 8.44 million, assuming a population decline of about one and a half million. This represents an accelerating population decline compared to the previous period. The projected population decline until 2050 may also bring significant change in the age composition of Hungary’s population. According to the basic calculation, the absolute number of the young (0-14 years) and working age (15-64 years) population will fall to 70-75% of its 2011 value, while the absolute number of those over 65 will increase 1.5 times[13]. According to the results of the latest forecast of 2018 by the Population Research Institute of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, the population of Hungary is expected to be 7,750,000 in 2070 in the basic version, the high version indicates a population of 9 million and 70,000, the low version indicates 6 million[14]. In 2019 the Central Administration of National Pension Insurance paid pensions (old-age, widow’s, parental pension, orphan’s benefit) or some other benefits (age-based benefits, benefits for the disabled, other annuities, emoluments) to more than a quarter of the population, 2.6 million people[15]. Aging is associated with deteriorating health in the case of many individuals; therefore, it is important to look at the number of people with permanent disabilities within the population. According to a survey conducted by the Hungarian Central Statistical Office in 2016, the number of citizens with disabilities and hindered due to health reasons is significant in the population. During the survey period, the number of disabled people was 408 thousand and their share in the population was 4.3%. The number of impaired persons due to self-declared (subjective) health reasons is significantly higher. According to the micro census, the estimated number of people in the total population who felt hindered due to their health in everyday life was 1,489,000, representing 16% of the total population. Regarding age groups, almost one-fifth of those aged 40-49 already consider themselves impaired. Over the age of 50, their proportion is growing rapidly, and the majority in the 60-year-old and older population is already impaired[16].

Employment situation of the aging population

Labour market conditions have changed in both Europe and Hungary, as the supply-driven labour market has been replaced by a demand-oriented labour market, the reasons behind this shift include globalization, the process of mobility and the appreciation of knowledge[17]. The increase in the demand for labour over the past decade has come at a time when labour resources have been steadily shrinking for example due to demographic reasons. Large age groups born in the first half of the 1950s are now exiting the labour market en masse and much smaller age groups born in the 1990s are entering it. In 2020, the working-age population aged 15-64 years included only 6 million 274 thousand persons, a decrease of 159 thousand compared to a 2008 assessment (6 million 433 thousand persons). The labour market consequences of the unfavourable demographic process can still be partially offset until 2022 by gradually increasing in the retirement age, even if women (under certain conditions) can retire earlier than their regular retirement age[18].

According to the data of the workforce survey in the fourth quarter of 2019, the number of employed persons in the population aged 15-74 was 4,520,000, and compared to the 15-64 age group, their employment rate was 70.1%. The employment rate of young people aged 15-24 fell by 0.5 percentage points to 28.5%, while that of those aged 55 and over rose significantly. In 2019 the changes in the contribution payments had a positive effect on the employment of retired people: they only have to pay the personal income tax of 15% and are exempt from paying other contributions.

Looking at the trends between 2010 and 2019 in terms of labour market status relative to the total population we can find that the proportion of the aging and older age groups has increased within the numerically declining economically active population. On the one hand, due to the already mentioned retirement age and, on the other hand, due to the increase in labour demand. We should further consider that the number of people missing from the workforce as a result of emigration and foreign employment also generated demand. The same applies to the rising employment rates and declining unemployment (see Table 1).

Table 1: Labour market status ratio for age groups 45-74 (%)
Economically active population
Year 45-49 years 50-54 years 55-59 years 60-64 years 65-69 years 70-74 years
2010 75.5 69.2 51.1 12.6 4.9 1.5
2019 91.1 88.0 76.1 42.6 9.2 4.3
Employment rate
2010 74.6 69.1 49.1 10.1 3.6 1.0
2019 88.6 82.5 69.4 28.7 7.3 2.9
Unemployment rate
2010 11.6 9.9 10.1 4.4 - -
2019 2.4 2.6 1.6 1.4 - -

Source: Hungarian Central Statistical Office

According to the data of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office for the second quarter of 2020, the number of the economically active population aged 15-74 was 4,622.4 thousand, thus, the activity rate was 62.4%. Out of the active population, 4,408.2 thousand were employed and the number of unemployed was 214.1 thousand. In the second quarter of 2020, the employment rate of the population aged 15-74 was 59.5%, according to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office. The average closing day number of jobseekers registered by the Hungarian National Employment Service was 356.8 thousand, which is a significant increase compared to the previous quarters due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of jobseekers belonging to the 45-55 age group was 60,900 (21.1%) and the number of people aged 55 and over was 74.7 thousand (25.7%). In practice, 46.8% of jobseekers belong to sensitive age groups. It is important to highlight that latent employment (job search) is higher than what was mentioned above; one reason behind this is public assistance. The duration of job search assistance in Hungary is 3 months, the lowest in Europe. In December 2020, 149.9 thousand jobseekers were entitled to cash benefits and 47.8% received social benefits. 48.4% of jobseekers did not receive any financial support in the examined month.[19]

Legislative framework, reference to strategic documents

The concept of active aging, unlike traditional social policy, links different public policies and sets new goals. In Hungary, classical old-age policy refers to the top-down relationship between the nation-state and the local old-age policy. Aging policy also reflects those values that define the European approach to the elderly, such as independence, social participation and behaviour, security, health and equal opportunities[20]. Old-age policy is also influenced by economic and financial policies, as population aging has potentially unfavourable macroeconomic consequences, for example in terms of productivity, labour and financial balance. State expenditure affected by aging includes pension insurance, health care and long-term care. As the growing number of beneficiaries of public pension schemes faces a declining number of contributors, the deficit of pension schemes and ultimately of the overall budget will increase, unless parameters are adjusted.

The National Old-Age Strategy[21] was adopted by the National Assembly of Hungary in 2009 and set the preservation of the activity and independence of the aging and elderly people as a basic objective, but also drew attention to social and community responsibility, emphasizing the strengthening of the value of solidarity. The essence of the strategy is to adopt and enforce a change in social attitudes, which instead of focusing on past losses concerning aging (deficit model) draws the attention to the necessity of considering and acting on the preservation of existing and the development of hidden skills (development model). In order to achieve this, the planned interventions are aimed at reducing negative stereotypes toward the elderly, improving intergenerational relations and cooperation, strengthening employment, labour market participation, expanding alternative training opportunities, creating income security in old age, and strengthening civic initiatives and volunteering.

From the point of view of social policy, it is essential to ensure equal opportunities for the aging age group. Discrimination based on age is ageism, and like other types of discrimination, can occur directly or indirectly, and its consequences are also similar. Equal opportunities have been included in all laws of Hungary starting from the Fundamental Law, these are not detailed here. The Equal Opportunities Act[22] acknowledges “every person’s right to live as a person of equal dignity, intending to provide effective legal aid to those suffering from negative discrimination, declaring that the promotion of equal opportunities and social inclusion is principally the duty of the State." “It is considered a particular violation of the principle of equal treatment if the employer inflicts direct or indirect negative discrimination upon an employee." Following our topic, the issue of discrimination against aging employees in the labour market and equal opportunities in the workplace has been examined in several studies, two of which are discussed below.

The results of the “Equal Opportunities and Diversity in 2014/2015: Equal Opportunities for Workplaces – The IV. National Benchmark Survey of Corporate Responsibility" show that among organizations the exclusion of people over the age of 55 was almost twice as common as that of those under 25. In Hungary, in the case of recruiting new employees, corporate age-friendly HR policy tends to involve age groups that are better suited to the existing composition. At the same time, there was no significant correlation between the level of diversity-friendly HR policy and exclusion based on age in the employment of people under the age of 25 and over 55. On the other hand, higher levels of age-friendly HR policy were significantly related to lower levels of exclusion of people aged over 55[23].

In 2018, the representative sample of the research titled “Personal and Social Perception of Discrimination and Legal Awareness of Equal Treatment" commissioned by the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority consisted of 1000 persons, corresponding to the composition of the Hungarian population over the age of 18 by gender, age, educational attainment and place of residence. Based on the responses, age discrimination came first (about 12.2 percent of respondents reported that they occasionally perceived being discriminated against because of their age). The proportion of people over the age of 50 was 44.7% concerning age discrimination[24].

Employment policy assumes that labour processes are predominantly determined by the labour market, but at the same time an institutional system capable of dealing with tensions and performing social tasks must be developed: social partners must be involved, legal guarantees must be provided for employers and employees, and appropriate decision-making tools and mechanisms should be established. Both the social and the economic function groups should be present in the target system of employment policy in old age[25].

According to the Policy strategy serving as the basis for the development of employment policy in Hungary for the period of 2014-2020, the available activation tools require a more thoughtful use, especially with regard to the groups at risk of the labour market[26]. These objectives are expected to be maintained in the 2021-2027 programming period, complemented by the needs of Industry 4.0 and the employment policy challenges of accelerating automation and robotization.

Old-age policy has a number of instruments which, even if not sufficiently, contribute to the improvement of the labour market status of aging people. Employment for people over the age of 55 is promoted by the Workplace Protection Action Plan, which has been in place since 2013, moreover, a number of EU programs provides support to those over the age of 50 to increase their employment rate. In 2018 the number of people involved in active employment policy instruments was 342.5 thousand. Of these, 135.6 thousand people (39.6%) were involved in public employment, while 206.7 thousand people in other employment policy instruments. Expenditures on labour market instruments and services come from two sources: the decentralized part of the Hungarian National Employment Fund, on the one hand, and the European Union’s operational programs, on the other. In total, nearly HUF 60 billion was paid for activity-enhancing subsidies in 2018. Labour market training, within the subsidies, can be divided into two groups, the larger one consists of labour market training participants and the smaller one is made up of the participants in employer-organized education (see Table 2).

Table 2: Distribution of participants in labour market training by gender and age in 2018. (year/person)
Name Employment training Employer-organized training Total
Man 12 034 2 110 14 144
Woman 16 923 1 104 18 027
Total 28 957 3 214 32 176
Under 25 years 7 433 246 7 679
25-54 years 20 042 2 658 22 700
55 years and above 1 482 310 1 792
Total 28 957 3 214 32 171

Source: Hungarian Ministry of Finance

The table above shows that the proportion of jobseekers over the age of 55 in the group receiving training support (employment training) was 5.1%, while employees 55+ was 9.6% (employer-organized training). Concerning wage subsidies and wage costs the rates are not any better, with 7.6% of those over 55 receiving some form of subsidy (see Table 3).

Table 3: Number of wage subsidies by gender and age 2018. (year/person)
Name Wage subsidies   Wage cost subsidy Total
Man 7 131 50 574 57 705
Woman 6 480 56 848 63 328
Total 13 611 107 422 121 033
Under 25 years 5 546 58 763 64 309
25 - 54 years 6 952 41 293 48 245
55 years and above 1 113 7 366 8 479
Total 13 611 107 422 121 033

Source: Hungarian Ministry of Finance

Women and men were almost equally involved in entrepreneurship support, which is practically a self-employment scheme: this instrument affected the largest number of persons from the age group of 25–54-year-olds. 3.7% of people who received support were over the age of 55[27].

Significant research projects in the field of work ability, overview of published articles

The Hungarian version of the Work Ability Index (WAI) was developed by the Occupational Health Department (then of the Hungarian National Labour Office, currently of the National Public Health Center), which also launched a national survey in 2014-2015. The survey covered the target groups of workers over the age of 45 in six sectors (agriculture, automotive, construction, healthcare professionals, general practitioners and educators), enrolling a total of 5000 people. Besides the standard 7-item WAI, the Questions related to impediments, and the Need-for-recovery and the Recovery opportunities scales were included. In this cross-sectional study, weak and moderate WAI values showed a significant correlation with higher age, higher body mass index, longer weekly working hours and physical demands at work[28]. Musculoskeletal disorders and circulatory diseases were the most common health impairments with/out complaints. Presence of diseases was combined with elevated odds for poor-moderate WAI. However, workers without health complaints ranked “lack of motivation" and “work-independent problems" higher. Odds were highest among workers who stated having substantial health or capacity related impediments. These findings emphasise the opportunities lie in occupational health services (e.g. easy access to personal medical consultations, health promotion). Further analysis of the dataset is envisaged.

The Research Centre for Labour and Health Sciences of the University of Pécs has launched a research titled “Possibilities for the joint examination of physical and mental competences to promote the employment of aging people" within the framework of the European Union-funded Human Resources Development Operational Program. The specific aim of the research is to develop and test a methodology that analyzes the effects of separate physical and mental competencies in an exact and comprehensive way, and that examines and promotes old age employment, job retention and learning, contributing to the modernization of employers’ age management approaches and practices. The planned innovation is complex and includes labour sciences, health sciences, psychology, andragogy and sociology[29]. The most important tools include the WAI questionnaires, aptitude and personality tests. The implementation of the program began in 2017 and is currently being carried out with the involvement of thousands of employees. The Hungarian Post Ltd, the Baranya County Entrepreneurial Centre and several non-governmental organizations and trade unions are among the participating employers and organizations.

The survey was carried out in 2018 and was conducted voluntarily and on the basis of self-assessment following the nature of the questionnaire. The query and questionnaires were processed using the EvaSys online system. The questionnaire was completed by 2162 persons, which is 7.21% of the total number of employees of the Hungarian Post Ltd (29,945 workers), sufficiently representing that population. 72.9% of the respondents came from age groups over the age of 45. The main findings are summarized below.

According to the summary of the survey, the WAI of the examined employees of the Hungarian Post Ltd is 41.38 points. Compared to the survey carried out by the Occupational Health Department of the Hungarian National Employment Service, it can be concluded that the average index of the employees of the Hungarian Post Ltd in the sample is higher than among those working in construction and health care (see Table 4).

Table 4: Work Ability Index comparison
Questions Automotive Construction Health care Education General Practitioner Hungarian Post Ltd
WAI (7-49 points) average 42.0 37.3 40.1 42.2 40.5 41.38

Source: Munkaképességi Index Felmérés 2015.

The average (cumulative) number of illnesses per capita for persons working in postal services is 1.5; 1.69 for women and 1.32 for men, taking into account that some illnesses are more widespread. In terms of the nature of work (physical, mental and physical/mental), and assessing, analysing and preserving work ability, the index of employees responsible for mental activities seems to be the most favourable based on the answers given to the seven set of questions, despite having more diseases than the other two groups. A more significant difference can be observed regarding the first question (Current work ability compared with the lifetime best) and the second question (Work ability with relation to the demands of the job). Overall, according to the data of the WAI measured among the respondents the following objectives can be set: 2.7% restore work ability, 13.9% improve work ability, 42.6% support work ability and 40.8% maintain work ability.

Table 5: Work Ability Index points by the number of persons
Category WAI points Number of persons
Poor 14-27 55
Moderate 28-36 302
Good 37-43 922
Excellent 44-49 883
Total   2162

Source: Szellő-Nemeskéri, 2019 (unpublished)

Thus, according to Table 5, there were 357 (16.6%) employees for whom intervention became urgent. In their case, in the absence of preventive and corrective measures, there is a risk of loss of work ability. At the same time, greater attention should be paid to strengthen and maintain the work ability of the other employees. As the majority of the target group consists of employees over the age of 40, the interventions could be:

  • Reduction of work environment exposures (harmful physical exposures, ergonomic load).
  • General prevention strategy developed and applied in the framework of occupational health protection.
  • Work organization (micro-breaks, time constraint/rescheduling, human-centred shift scheduling, overtime reduction, part-time work).
  • Adapting work to the employee’s health, competencies and capacities. Age-sensitive risk assessment.
  • In order to facilitate the restoration and improvement of work ability, the useful components of work (e.g., social contact, organization, meaningful daily activities) must be included into the individual plan of the employee. Reduction of competence gaps by providing knowledge transfer (training)[30].

The other essential element of the program is the joint measurement of physical and mental competencies. The devices simulating work tasks and conditions, as well as the system examining the requirements of the tasks and the physical capacity of the individual together, can help doctors and professionals to assess not only the extent of the damage caused by accident or illness, but also the remaining and improvable abilities and the effectiveness of full rehabilitation. The University of Pécs uses a three-panel ErgoScope simulator, which device was developed by Innomed Medical Zrt. in Hungary. The measurements and tests performed with the equipment help to determine what kind of work and activities the examined person is able to perform, and what task they are able to perform. This provides an objective picture of an employee’s or jobseeker’s work ability[31].

Based on the CEB Talent Measurement Solutions system for measuring mental competencies, the task of the personality testing test structure is to examine the possibilities for the development of existing competencies and to determine the ability to perform activities. The process begins with an assessment of development needs. In the course of this, workplace expectations and personal competencies are examined, compared, and finally the development plan is jointly developed. Job analysis is based on the CEB competency model – using either qualitative or quantitative methods as required, and it includes the Adaptive Intelligence Test, the Adaptive Vocabulary Test and the Spectrum Intelligence Test[32].

Based on the established protocols, the physical and mental competence of 209 employees (sixty percent of them were over the age of 45) have been measured and evaluated so far. Feedback takes form as an evaluation sheet written in a way that is comprehensible both to the employer and the employee. The experience of the applied test protocols and background research are synthesized within the framework of professional workshops.

Age management integrated into the scope of strategic human resource management activities may be able to make the best use of the methods described above. Ideally, age management uses a career-based approach and creates equal opportunities for all age groups. This indicates that workplace measures aiming to improve work ability must cover all dimensions of work, thus, developing work ability requires the cooperation of the employer and the employee. Due to the peculiarities of economic organizations in Hungary (the number and proportion of employers and small enterprises employing less than five people are significant), the operation of age management is included in the human resource strategy of large employers and multinational companies.

The application of the concept of work ability and age management on individual, organizational and company level

Society has also developed a definition of old age in the labour market that puts the line of old age early in the life cycle. This downward definition is linked to the culture of early retirement, as well as to the less marketable knowledge and poor health of the older workforce, and the negative attitudes of employers. The notion of “labour-market old" has emerged, according to which an employee can reach the old age at 45 years, but after the age of 50 they are definitely old. The development of individual strategies is greatly influenced by health condition, but the main determinant is motivation. Motives that may encourage the elderly to learn, to improve oneself, for instance, can be personality-strengthening reasons, such as an interest in global events, recalling experiences that can lead to contentment concerning the individual’s life course, developing skills related to previous occupations, continuing their job search, navigating new situations[33]. In the case of the unemployed aging group, in addition to self-management, it must also be taken into account that there is a chance for their re-employment only if they receive adequate assistance in the form of various benefits (wage subsidies) and services (career counselling, etc.)[34].

Most employers do not realize that aging workforce can cause problems in the supply and functioning of the workforce. In practice, employers only see a loss in the aging employee. Other employers, on the other hand, find older employees more loyal and trustworthy and believe they have great social and managerial skills. Therefore, the positive effects of aging are: increasing knowledge from work experience, higher leadership skills, greater social capital.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of employers, companies and economic organizations can guarantee the safety of aging employees. In this respect, we consider it important to note the prevailing role and the difference of the employer’s interest in the implementation of the safety factor. The primary interest of the employer is profit, and also to use the workforce (which produces profit) as efficiently as possible. The result of this is performance pressure (performance motivation) which, in many cases, overrides the humanism of CSR. Nowadays, it is no longer enough for a competitive company to offer jobs to employees and provide income in return, they need to take into account the needs and expectations of employee and meet them. The issues of responsible employment need to be faced: creating a motivating and inspiring workplace, taking a family-friendly approach, creating a healthy and human-centred work environment in order to value and protect aging employees[35]. It is important to support and disseminate inclusive workplace practices, to increase the protection of aging employees against workplace discrimination, and to promote empowerment measures. Consequently, age management requires regulatory, policy and methodological support, especially from insurers (pension insurance), preventive health care (occupational health services), lifelong learning (adult training and education), and the assistance of workforce management and human resources in order to ensure equal opportunities.

Educational and counselling activities for support of the work ability

Life-long learning and skill development are important factors for work ability and sustainable employability. People aged 50 and over have a harder time adapting to the rapidly changing needs of the labour market than, for example, members of younger age groups. There are significant differences between the knowledge-acquisition skills of 45-54- and 55–64-year-old people, the former group still maintains their achieved level of learning, some degree of decline may start around the age of 50, and the impact of one’s sociocultural background becomes stronger. According to the Hungarian Central Statistical Office, participation in learning programs among people over the age of 45 is roughly halved every 10 years or so. People aged 45-54 are able to participate in formal and non-formal learning processes without any particular difficulty, while opportunities are more limited for people over this age. However, further development of occupational skills should still be given priority among them, as economic needs and labour market aspirations are still predominantly the main causes behind the learning needs of this age group. According to the Digital Education Strategy of Hungary (2016)[36], participation of adults in lifelong learning in Hungary is extremely low (7%) and falls short of the targets set in the Europe 2020 Strategy (15%). One of the main reasons behind this is the public perception of the importance and need for learning. Neither adults find it useful, nor does a significant proportion of small- and medium-sized enterprises see the need for their employees to learn. In the field of education policy, the Adult Education Act[37], amended several times, does not specify what needs to be done to train aging citizens. The Lifelong Learning Policy Framework Strategy for 2014-2020[38] includes the tasks that promote the learning and training of aging people. Lifelong learning covers the entire life cycle of an individual, from early socialization and pre-school education to the post-employment age. The fundamental idea is that the development of human resources and the continuous improvement of employability and competitiveness of the working-age population are essential for the development of the Hungarian economy. In addition to ensuring equal opportunities and the provide professionals with andragogical knowledge, the strategy also sets out:

  • Identifying age-specific educational characteristics, providing education, vocational training and retraining programs, exploring and guaranteeing access to self-education, distance learning and e-learning opportunities in order to retain employees aged 50 and over in the labour market.
  • A separate task and challenge is to utilize the knowledge of older people in trainings (which, among many other things, could be a pillar of intergenerational cooperation), especially in areas that require practical training[39].

The implementation of a knowledge-based society in adulthood would require a much higher rate of training participation than it is at the present that, which can be achieved primarily through the expansion of out-of-school and on-the-job training, as well as non-formal learning[40]. There are four possible areas of learning and education that can help to link the economic and social needs of an aging population: the health of the individual, strengthening society and family, productive employment and the cultural enrichment and development of the individual[41].

The purpose of adult education outside the school system may be, in addition to obtaining vocational qualification, language training or any vocational or other trainings (e.g., hobby training). Training organizations are predominantly for-profit businesses. Part of the training is publicly funded with the support of the European Union. According to the Adult Education Act, such activities can only be carried out with a permit. According to the register of adult educators in Hungary, there were 9750 such organizations in 2020[42]. Experience has shown that in the case of corporate training, the proportion of enterprises supporting internal training is constantly increasing, while the proportion of enterprises supporting external training is constantly decreasing. In 2018 41.6% of 25–34-year-olds and 20.4% of those over 55 participated in some form of (out-of-school, corporate) training[43].

Economic renewal arrived hand in hand with the acceleration of informatics, requiring the development of digital knowledge. In Hungary 60% of adults aged 25-64, i.e., 3.4 million adult citizens of working age, have at most basic or no digital competencies at all. It is projected that 90% of jobs will require some level of digital competence in the near future, thus, a significant proportion of these 3.4 million Hungarian citizens will need to learn in order to be able to keep their job or find a new job. The target group for the development of digital competencies includes the older age groups as well. For example, within the framework of the Digital Success Program Network, under the guidance of mentors 6500 elderly people have been able to learn how to use a computer[44].

One of the barriers to learning in old age in Hungary is the lack of related counselling services. There is a lack of career counselling, which is an individual or group process, that emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and understanding, and helps to find a satisfactory and meaningful work-life balance. Another obstacle is the lack of andragogy specialists in business-oriented adult education organizations. There are no mentoring services that would help increase the willingness of older people to learn.

Examples of good practices in application of the programs for people with or without employment

Today employment policy is linked to the flexibility and security of the labour market. According to the common principles of flexicurity, flexibility is about creating setting up work organization. Security means protecting employment. Demand for labour will change in the future, as demand for technical, for emotional and social, as well as for higher cognitive competencies will increase. In the following, among the methods used by public organizations, we present examples and organizational frameworks that help to establish employability based on the competencies of the individual. Modern European methodology seeks to achieve a holistic approach, i.e., to explore the full set of competencies of the employee and the jobseeker.

The profiling-based approach is a common practice in Europe for assessing the employability of the unemployed. Profiling, as a client categorization system, includes the assessment (examination) of individual and professional abilities and competencies relevant to employment, and the comparison of the results with the requirements of the labour market in the region[45].

In Hungary, the National Employment Service, which has been reorganized several times in the last ten years, started developing the profiling method in 2005. Profiling category classification indicates the jobseeker’s current employment prospects. The category is not definitive; it can be influenced or modified by changes in the environment or the employability factors of the individual. The characteristics and methodological content of the categories are as follows:

  • independent jobseeker: a person who, through self-information systems (electronically available information leaflets, job offers, internet networks) or with the minimal help of employment service, is able to find the right job opportunity independently, because they are able to manage themselves;
  • can be employed with assistance: a person who can be returned to the labour market with the help of instruments (subsidies) provided by the employment service (e.g., has outdated professional knowledge or does not meet the needs of the labour market, thus participates in training);
  • at risk: their return to the labour market is possible with the involvement of other cooperating organizations with the special support of the employment service. Characteristics: not motivated to find a job, has been unsuccessfully looking for a job for years making them long-term unemployed, struggling with mental, social and communication problems[46].

A 2019 study finds that the proportion of older people has increased among registered jobseekers. The majority of long-term unemployed people and aging jobseekers fall into the third “at risk" profiling category[47]. Further findings of the research suggest that most activation tools alone cannot achieve results, only complex programs combining multiple tools can help. Effective coordination of social and employment services is also key[48]. Currently, the organization and operation of an integrated service system (employment counsellor, social workers, psychologists, rehabilitation experts, occupational health services, etc.) would be the responsibility of employment policy. However, this is not reflected in the conceptually separate policy strategies.

Opponents of employment in old age believe that older workers lack new technical skills and the willingness to learn, also, that they are not creative and proactive enough. Their health has deteriorated, leading to absences at work and increased labour costs, in particular due to high levels of sick leave. Their ability to perform, thus their labour productivity is reduced. In some job areas, the effect of stress will be greater, which can also hinder work. All of this is related to the presence or lack of employee health awareness. Occupational health services maintain and continuously monitor the health of employees at work and have primarily preventive roles.

According to relevant legal regulations[49] in Hungary, all employers are obliged to establish personnel, material and organizational conditions for work that does not endanger health and is safe, in order to protect the health and work ability of persons in organized employment and to humanize working conditions. The employer is further obliged to provide occupational health services to all employees. In line with the WHO, ILO and OSHA standards, Hungarian occupational health services are primarily preventive services whose tasks are:

  1. tracing and continuously monitoring workload (physical, intellectual, mental) and work environment pathogenic factors (physical, chemical, biological, psychosocial, ergonomic);
  2. proposing methods to keep them at a level that is not harmful to health;
  3. adapting work to the abilities of employees according to their physical, intellectual and mental health;
  4. monitoring the health of employees in connection with their work.

The service contributes to: the performance of employer’s duties relating to the protection of occupation health, especially in exploring the sources of danger at the workplace and in solving occupational health tasks; the provision of material, personnel and organizational conditions for first aid at work; the organization of emergency medical care and the professional training of first-aiders; occupational rehabilitation; the development of the employer’s plan for disaster prevention, response settlement and rehabilitation of the damages caused. The above tasks and medical surveillance activities are set in legislation[50][51]. However, practical occupational health care activities are wider than this. In addition to its multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral activities, they work with other authentic professionals (corporate and non-corporate), competent authorities, employers, employees, and their representatives in the field of occupational health and safety. According to the 2019 activity report, there have been 2636 doctors in Hungary (64.1% of them working part-time) providing basic occupational health services to workers in organized employment[52].


In conclusion, the development of industrial technologies (automation, robotics, etc.) will lead to a major struggle to maintain active labour market status, which requires a different approach from both the employer and the employee in their attitudes and methods. Solidarity between different generations and cooperation between employees (and their representatives), employers and managers are essential, and they are in the interests not only of the aging population but of all ages. Developing solutions to stimulate activity and productivity in old age, helping the aging and the elderly to return to the labour market, and ensuring lifelong learning together call for a wider application of age management.


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Further reading

This text was prepared within the project "Work Ability Management"  No. 2020-1-CZ01-KA204-078204 Erasmus + Programme Key Action 2 Strategic  Partnerships for adult education.

The full publication with country reports also on Czechia, Germany, the Netherlands and Slovakia is available at: [1]

  1. Support of the aging in the workplace. Brno 2021. [26]

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Kudasz Ferenc