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Corporate Australia needs to engage better with more mature workers

By Marcus Riley - posted Wednesday, 30 January 2019


As a society we need to understand that more and more people will be seeking to continue working past the traditional 'retirement' age of sixty-five. Some will be doing so out of necessity to fund the increased longevity - living well into our mid 80's and beyond – that most people will attain. Others will continue working by choice as their preferred way of staying engaged with life and connected with their communities. Further to understanding, we must embrace this desire and intention to contribute by our older generations.

We need to embrace and harness this wonderful resource because quite frankly our companies, businesses, institutions and public bodies will be dependent on it as workforce requirements escalate over the coming years. The good news is that it is proven that older, experienced workers bring great benefits to their employer organisations. Data from different types of businesses confirm the value of expertise, stability and productivity from their older workers. The bad news however is the existence of strong and widespread barriers preventing the effective engagement of older people in the workplace.

Recent statistics indicate that one in five working older Australians have experienced workplace age-discrimination. Many more highlight the great difficulty in regaining employment after time out of the workforce as well as being prematurely forced out of employment. It was reported in 2018 that 25 per cent of people on Newstart are aged over 55 and unemployed Australians aged 60 to 64 are on unemployment benefit, on average, almost twice as long as those aged 25 to 29. These figures are compounded through a study late last year in which one-third of employers stated their reluctance to engage older workers.

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Such exclusion of older workers will come at a huge cost, affecting productivity, developments, progress of industries as workforce requirements increase over coming years. It is anticipated that countries like the USA and Australia who share similar ageing demographics will require 1 in 4 workers to be aged over 50 over the next decade. At the start of the century that number was about 1 in 10. For the first time in history, 2019 will see four generations of Australian's employed at the same time. A five-generation workplace is a looming reality.

Of course we can't examine the workplace without considering the marketplace. It is expected that the household spending of people aged over fifty in Australia will grow from $4 billion in 2016 to $11 billion in 2035. Organisations will need the input from older employees to best engage with a market place increasingly comprised of people who are fifty years plus. Relatedly, society cannot tolerate the impact on individuals through discrimination and ageism given the consequential impacts on health, economic and other societal factors. It is unacceptable to have such prejudice continue unchecked. Policies and practices to prevent age discrimination must therefore be enforced in workplaces as we've seen in other areas such as gender equality.

Ageing workforce rhetoric has widely discussed policy implications – the cost of healthcare and impacts on the social welfare system, retirement savings and the broader economy – but important aspects of the ageing workforce have as yet been largely omitted. The onus will fall on organisations and their leadership teams to adopt older worker-friendly policies in order to survive this transformational period and it's essential corporate Australia are ready to adapt. The results in terms of productivity and stability have been confirmed with a large healthcare organisation reporting their older workers were more productive, took less sick leave and another retail company confirmed their commitment to older workers who make up one-third of their 30,000 strong workforce.

As people are more frequently changing jobs and moving across industries more regularly, mentoring becomes essential in businesses of all types. Younger graduates may have the theoretical qualifications but will regularly lack the practical experience to uphold professional responsibilities. Employers of choice are continually searching for competitive advantages to attract and retain good people, a mentor who can offer professional and life-experience certainly adds value for staff beyond their salary.

Employers are starting to offer flexible arrangements to accommodate workers who may have other commitments due to family or community roles, just as they do for university students that need study leave and parents with family commitments. People adapting to evolving industries, changing careers or re-entering the workforce may require training, a refresh of technical skills and knowledge which can be supported by organisations to harness the capacity of such a prospective workforce.

Industries of tomorrow but also of today need to engage with older workers. Those businesses already doing so are clearly demonstrating the benefits to be had. Much more needs to be done, and soon, to overcome the current barriers to the widespread provision and promotion of an ageing workforce.

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About the Author

Marcus Riley is the Director of Global Ageing Network, a member of the Steering Committee for Global Alliance for the Rights of Older People (GAROP), Focal Point for the Stakeholder Group on Ageing (an agency of the United Nations) for the Asia-Pacific region and CEO of BallyCara, a charitable organisation and public benevolent institution for older people.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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