Work-life balance and leveraging diverse talent have traditionally been seen as 'options' in the realm of the human resources department. However, critical talent shortages and the changing nature of the workforce mean they are no longer peripheral but are critical business and productivity considerations for the workplaces of the future.
Take Australia's ageing population. It is estimated that people aged 45 and over will need to provide 85% of workforce growth in the next decade in order to meet the labour demands of employers, so there is a strong imperative to keep mature-age people in the workforce for longer.
The good news is that many older people want to work. Diversity Council Australia's Grey Matters research into retirement intentions has found that, of those who have ceased to work (many to 'retire' in the traditional sense), almost one in three are interested in returning to work, to participate in the labour market actively.
I believe business, government and the broader community share the responsibility of improving attraction and retention of mature-age employees. While leading practice employers, including many DCA members, are already meeting the challenge, more remains to be done to extend such initiatives across the Australian workforce.
Age discrimination continues to present a significant barrier to workforce participation. Increasing community awareness and compliance with legislation, with a particular attention on the private recruitment sector, is crucial. So too is directing more resources toward assisting small and medium-sized enterprises with education and support to increase their efforts in this area.
The ability to work part time and/or flexible hours is a critical enabler – after good health – for mature-age people to work beyond retirement age. It is also essential for people who need to accommodate their caring responsibilities alongside paid work – whether that be looking after young children, elderly parents or a family member with a disability. Facilitating greater workplace flexibility must therefore be a major priority for government and employers.
There are significant business benefits to be gained from mainstreaming flexibility in terms of a more productive and sustainable workforce. As our Get Flexible research found, organisations need to think outside the square to find new approaches to flexible work and careers. Instead of just saying 'No', they need to have an open mind and be creative about the possibilities if they are to reap the benefits. They also need to build flexible work and careers into their business strategies rather than bolt them on as a set of policies, a program or a set of arrangements that are separate to the way the business runs.
Diversity and equal employment opportunity concerns are now mainstream workplace relations concerns and this is helping to achieve positive workplace change in this area. The right to request flexible working in the Fair Work Act and clauses for EBAs to assist employers who wish to offer flexible working arrangements are examples of how diversity and workplace relations concerns can intersect to benefit employers and employees alike.
Finally, the rise of Asia as an economic powerhouse and our ever more globalised economy is also creating change. Employers are increasingly turning overseas to access new markets, business opportunities and skilled staff. In this context, the ability of executives to influence across cultural boundaries and lead and work within multicultural teams is becoming critical to business success. Our Capitalising on Culture research measured cultural diversity in the senior executive ranks in five DCA member organisations and found they were well positioned when it came to intercultural or diversity capability.
Smart employers are recognising these trends and preparing themselves for the workplace of the future. As Bill Shorten, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations said at a forum for DCA members in Sydney last week: "Ultimately, there is a clear business case for employing a diverse workforce and if we want our economy and businesses to continue to grow, we have to maximise the potential of those who are willing and able to work."
Diversity Council Australia Limited (DCA) is the independent, not-for-profit workplace diversity advisor to business in Australia. DCA provides diversity advice and strategy to over 170 member organisations, many of whom are Australia's business diversity leaders and biggest employers. For more information, visit www.dca.org.au.
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