How to nurture an ageing workforce


It’s a form of workplace discrimination that has long flown under the radar, but eventually it will catch up to us all.

On any given day, when you open your newspaper, or scroll through your newsfeed, there will be a story about the gender pay gap, or a person who missed out on a job opportunity because of illness or their ethnic background. However, there is another type of unlawful discrimination that is equally as prevalent in our workplaces, and is often overlooked — ageism.

Ageism is one of the most reported types of discriminatory behaviour. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, more than a quarter of Australians aged over 50 have experienced some kind of age discrimination in the last couple of years.  It’s an issue that will affect us all, and it has long flown under the radar.

Better healthcare and the need to fund retirement as the cost of living increases, is what’s keeping Australians in the workplace longer. While outdated and inaccurate assumptions like older workers being ‘set in their ways’ and ‘just waiting to retire’ continue to prevail, the retirement age in Australia has been steadily increased with many people thinking about a second or  third career in middle age.

Last year, we wrote an article for HRM on the growing implications and challenges of an ageing workforce. This led us to host a briefing for business leaders and HR personnel with the Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Honourable Dr Kay Patterson AO, along with a panel discussion with experts and leaders in this field. Dr Patterson and our panel discussed age diversity and the strategies businesses can take to manage the realities of an ageing workforce, and today we’re continuing the conversation.

So, what can workplaces do to best manage an ageing workforce and tackle ageism?

According to our experts, they key is to challenge the stereotype that mature-aged workers are set in their ways, resistant to change, and ready to stop working. Instead, employers should focus on creating a culture that caters to the needs of all ages, as well as fostering intergenerational exchanges. This can be achieved by the following:

Re-thinking flexibility

Employers should think more broadly about flexibility in the workplace and offer flexible working arrangements to older workers. Most workplaces promote flexibility to parents returning from a period of parental leave, or to employees with a disability. However, few workplaces actively promote flexibility for mature-age workers. This is despite the fact that being 55 years or older is one of the circumstances where the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) specifically says an employee can request flexible work arrangements.

Employers should also develop flexible work opportunities that cater to the needs of older workers who are not yet ready to retire, or have no desire to retire, such as job-share arrangements or phased retirement options. Actively promoting these opportunities to workers can benefit both employers and employees. It can place less pressure on workers to stop working simply because they’ve got to a certain age, and can facilitate a smoother transition to retirement. This could lead to greater productivity, a transfer of business and operational knowledge, and maintenance of  retention rates of otherwise highly-skilled and experienced staff.

Have positive conversations about retirement

Employers should strive to create a culture that considers career planning for employees of all ages and doesn’t shy away from discussing plans for the future. Far from the outdated assumption that employees over a certain age are simply waiting to retire, many older workers have no desire to stop working and/or would prefer a phased transition to retirement. However, when organisations do not engage with older workers about their career plans in a meaningful or positive way, this can make transition to retirement a stressful process.

Employers should educate employees on matters relating to retirement by facilitating financial planning and ‘preparing for retirement’ awareness sessions, as well having discussions with employees about their plans for the future earlier (when employees are in their mid-40s). This can make the transition to retirement smoother and less daunting.  

Facilitate knowledge transfer and intergenerational relationships

Employers should think seriously about the practicalities of working in multigenerational teams, and put in place strategies to both deal with potential intergenerational conflicts, and facilitate knowledge transfer between generations that are working together.

One of the biggest issues resulting from the absence of older workers is the loss of their knowledge and skills when they leave the workforce. Given this, employers should use older workers as mentors to capitalise on their experience and organisational knowledge. By implementing mentoring programs, and ensuring, as far as possible, that different age groups within teams interact, employers can also prevent intergenerational conflict and dispel negative perceptions about older or younger workers.

Thinking seriously about tackling ageism in the workplace is imperative, not only for Australia’s rapidly increasing ageing workforce, but also for our future selves as none of us are getting any younger.

Aaron Goonrey is a Partner and Jenni Mandel is a Lawyer in Lander & Rogers’ Workplace Relations & Safety practice. Aaron can be contacted at agoonrey@landers.com.au.


Learn about the practical tools, techniques and processes that you need to effectively manage change in your organisation with AHRI’s short course ‘Leading through change’.

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Janine
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Janine

Good Stuff. Thanks.

CJT
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CJT

‘Employers should think more broadly about flexibility in the workplace?’. A fair comment indeed but how many organisations consider ‘flexibility’ when we apply this to ageism or to other forms of discrimination? I have always believed that ageism is a blot, a big blot on our modern employment relationship however, how many employers/organisations have been found guilty of such a crime – very few indeed! If we were to increase the penalties for any form of discrimination, would this help?

Wayne Gobert
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Wayne Gobert

Great article. As noted age will catch up with all of us one day (if not the alternative’s a lot worse). Certainly something I personally experienced. Possibly collateral damage to all of the hype around intergenerational typology The “Logan’s Run” view of the world seems to imply that our mindset hardens and atrophies in 5 to 7 years steps. Gradually going backwards. Really? Has anyone ever studied this properly? There is a great danger in opinion polling people in yes of no style. It ignores the degree of belief in between yes or no. I think our last Federal Election… Read more »

Robin Pollock
Guest
Robin Pollock

Great article. But overlooked is the employee (many of them) who hit their 60s, hate their job, become a problem for the business due to their negativity and other employees who refuse to work with them, refuse to consider a ‘transition to retirement’ program and use up all the PC/L for no valid reason. Getting these workers out of a business is critical to that business, yet trying to do so often results in a discrimination claim or worse. Sadly these are the employees whose behavior has led to the ‘ageism’ tag.

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How to nurture an ageing workforce


It’s a form of workplace discrimination that has long flown under the radar, but eventually it will catch up to us all.

On any given day, when you open your newspaper, or scroll through your newsfeed, there will be a story about the gender pay gap, or a person who missed out on a job opportunity because of illness or their ethnic background. However, there is another type of unlawful discrimination that is equally as prevalent in our workplaces, and is often overlooked — ageism.

Ageism is one of the most reported types of discriminatory behaviour. According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, more than a quarter of Australians aged over 50 have experienced some kind of age discrimination in the last couple of years.  It’s an issue that will affect us all, and it has long flown under the radar.

Better healthcare and the need to fund retirement as the cost of living increases, is what’s keeping Australians in the workplace longer. While outdated and inaccurate assumptions like older workers being ‘set in their ways’ and ‘just waiting to retire’ continue to prevail, the retirement age in Australia has been steadily increased with many people thinking about a second or  third career in middle age.

Last year, we wrote an article for HRM on the growing implications and challenges of an ageing workforce. This led us to host a briefing for business leaders and HR personnel with the Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Honourable Dr Kay Patterson AO, along with a panel discussion with experts and leaders in this field. Dr Patterson and our panel discussed age diversity and the strategies businesses can take to manage the realities of an ageing workforce, and today we’re continuing the conversation.

So, what can workplaces do to best manage an ageing workforce and tackle ageism?

According to our experts, they key is to challenge the stereotype that mature-aged workers are set in their ways, resistant to change, and ready to stop working. Instead, employers should focus on creating a culture that caters to the needs of all ages, as well as fostering intergenerational exchanges. This can be achieved by the following:

Re-thinking flexibility

Employers should think more broadly about flexibility in the workplace and offer flexible working arrangements to older workers. Most workplaces promote flexibility to parents returning from a period of parental leave, or to employees with a disability. However, few workplaces actively promote flexibility for mature-age workers. This is despite the fact that being 55 years or older is one of the circumstances where the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) specifically says an employee can request flexible work arrangements.

Employers should also develop flexible work opportunities that cater to the needs of older workers who are not yet ready to retire, or have no desire to retire, such as job-share arrangements or phased retirement options. Actively promoting these opportunities to workers can benefit both employers and employees. It can place less pressure on workers to stop working simply because they’ve got to a certain age, and can facilitate a smoother transition to retirement. This could lead to greater productivity, a transfer of business and operational knowledge, and maintenance of  retention rates of otherwise highly-skilled and experienced staff.

Have positive conversations about retirement

Employers should strive to create a culture that considers career planning for employees of all ages and doesn’t shy away from discussing plans for the future. Far from the outdated assumption that employees over a certain age are simply waiting to retire, many older workers have no desire to stop working and/or would prefer a phased transition to retirement. However, when organisations do not engage with older workers about their career plans in a meaningful or positive way, this can make transition to retirement a stressful process.

Employers should educate employees on matters relating to retirement by facilitating financial planning and ‘preparing for retirement’ awareness sessions, as well having discussions with employees about their plans for the future earlier (when employees are in their mid-40s). This can make the transition to retirement smoother and less daunting.  

Facilitate knowledge transfer and intergenerational relationships

Employers should think seriously about the practicalities of working in multigenerational teams, and put in place strategies to both deal with potential intergenerational conflicts, and facilitate knowledge transfer between generations that are working together.

One of the biggest issues resulting from the absence of older workers is the loss of their knowledge and skills when they leave the workforce. Given this, employers should use older workers as mentors to capitalise on their experience and organisational knowledge. By implementing mentoring programs, and ensuring, as far as possible, that different age groups within teams interact, employers can also prevent intergenerational conflict and dispel negative perceptions about older or younger workers.

Thinking seriously about tackling ageism in the workplace is imperative, not only for Australia’s rapidly increasing ageing workforce, but also for our future selves as none of us are getting any younger.

Aaron Goonrey is a Partner and Jenni Mandel is a Lawyer in Lander & Rogers’ Workplace Relations & Safety practice. Aaron can be contacted at agoonrey@landers.com.au.


Learn about the practical tools, techniques and processes that you need to effectively manage change in your organisation with AHRI’s short course ‘Leading through change’.

4
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Janine
Guest
Janine

Good Stuff. Thanks.

CJT
Guest
CJT

‘Employers should think more broadly about flexibility in the workplace?’. A fair comment indeed but how many organisations consider ‘flexibility’ when we apply this to ageism or to other forms of discrimination? I have always believed that ageism is a blot, a big blot on our modern employment relationship however, how many employers/organisations have been found guilty of such a crime – very few indeed! If we were to increase the penalties for any form of discrimination, would this help?

Wayne Gobert
Guest
Wayne Gobert

Great article. As noted age will catch up with all of us one day (if not the alternative’s a lot worse). Certainly something I personally experienced. Possibly collateral damage to all of the hype around intergenerational typology The “Logan’s Run” view of the world seems to imply that our mindset hardens and atrophies in 5 to 7 years steps. Gradually going backwards. Really? Has anyone ever studied this properly? There is a great danger in opinion polling people in yes of no style. It ignores the degree of belief in between yes or no. I think our last Federal Election… Read more »

Robin Pollock
Guest
Robin Pollock

Great article. But overlooked is the employee (many of them) who hit their 60s, hate their job, become a problem for the business due to their negativity and other employees who refuse to work with them, refuse to consider a ‘transition to retirement’ program and use up all the PC/L for no valid reason. Getting these workers out of a business is critical to that business, yet trying to do so often results in a discrimination claim or worse. Sadly these are the employees whose behavior has led to the ‘ageism’ tag.

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria.
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