Poor health is the most important reason why workers decide to take early retirement, but factors such as high work pressure and low job satisfaction also play a role, reports a study in the June Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

Added support and changes in leadership style might help to delay retirement in highly skilled older workers, according to the study by Tilja I.J. van den Berg, M.Sc., and colleagues of Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

In a review of eight previous studies, poor health was the factor most consistently related to early retirement. Several other work-related factors also seemed to play a role, including high physical work demands, high work pressure, and low job satisfaction.

The study also included focus group interviews with older workers in the printing industry – which has a highly skilled but rapidly aging workforce. The printers agreed that poor health would make them consider retiring early. Other factors that could push them toward early retirement included heavy work load, shiftwork, and lack of support from co-workers and management.

When asked about incentives that would encourage them to postpone retirement, the workers mentioned increased support from coworkers and appreciation from management. Since they appreciated the importance of good health in preventing early retirement, they also mentioned steps that would help them to stay fit, such as access to a worksite gym.

Especially in industries with highly qualified technical jobs, companies need information on what factors may "push" valued older employees toward early retirement, as well as factors that can "pull" them toward staying on the job.

The new study identifies health- and work-related factors leading to early retirement, along with factors that could help to keep valued older workers on the job – sometimes as simple as a "pat on the back" to express appreciation. "Postponing early retirement could be facilitated by reducing workload, increasing social support from colleagues, appreciative and supportive leadership, and health promotion," the researchers write.