An audience that ranged across the age spectrum gathered in Sydney at the invitation of AHRI and the Australian Human Rights Commission to discuss participation of older Australians in the workforce.
It was appropriate that the Older Australians At Work summit was a cross-generational event as – more than one speaker noted – inclusion and promotion of older workers in the workforce requires cross-generational support.
John Daley, CEO of Grattan Institute and demographic commentator and KPMG Partner, Bernard Salt set the backdrop for discussion with revealing data about the attitudes and motivations of older workers – as well as the budgetary challenges facing the Government if they fail to encourage mature-age workers to stay or return to the workforce.
Focusing on the supply side of the equation, Daley asked: How much do older workers want to work? Clearly, the fiscal incentives aren’t there. Grattan data reveals that people over 65 are paying less tax than they did 20 years ago partly because of changes to superannuation, while government spending on older people has risen dramatically, particularly in the pensions, health and aged care sectors.
As often stated, one problem is the greater number of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce than young people entering it. Bernard Salt agreed with Daley that this may be a matter of choice rather than discrimination against older workers. He vividly detailed the mindset of a Boomer generation who, after working and saving throughout their lives, have a sense of entitlement about what they feel is due to them in retirement.
But this is only one side of the coin. Many mature-age workers feel retirement is their only option and unless employers have conversations with their older workers about their needs and motivations, they risk losing valuable skills and knowledge, says Alison Monroe, CEO of SageCo.
From a panel discussion of leading HR professionals came stories of older workers who, their companies had discovered, wanted to remain useful, active and employed – while enjoying greater flexibility. Linda Redfearn, head of HR at Blackmores, Niki Kesoglou, group head of diversity and inclusion, QBE Insurance and Kate Dee (FAHRI), GM talent, culture and leadership at NAB talked about banishing stereotypes and not assuming that older workers always wanted to retire.
Kesoglou said QBE had begun by reviewing its talent management policies and asking questions about how to retain critical knowledge. Combining that with a new, flexible work policy led the company to explore further what motivated and drove their mature-age workforce.
All three businesses initiated conversations – in focus groups and through surveys – and collected data to build a story of their ageing workforce. NAB’s Kate Dee said the company’s approach was holistic, having discussions with mature-age workers as individuals, thinking about their health, relationships and financial situation. Blackmore’s approach was similar, helping employees to plan the latter part of their careers and transition to retirement. QBE’s Envisage program also began slowly with small interested groups but, Kesoglou remarked, as word spread throughout the company, tickets to attend were “snapped up quicker than for a Katy Perry concert”.
Moving from strategy to action, said Dee, “depended on having NAB’s executive sponsorship from the outset and then ensuring people leaders were skilled in having those conversations with mature age workers”. She was also pleased that establishing projects around the retention of mature age workers “had given her the opportunity to talk in front of leadership teams”.
Kesoglou summed up the belief among senior management: “From a workplace planning strategy, it’s critical to the future success of the business to have mature-aged workers engaged.”
For more on the topic of inclusion in the workplace attend the AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference, taking place in Sydney in May. Find out more.