Society is infatuated with youth says Susan Ryan, the Age Discrimination Commissioner, which is one reason why businesses don’t value maturity as much as they should.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald Ryan calls for increased efforts from companies to hire and retain older workers to combat high levels of discrimination and underemployment in the workplace that workers 55 year and older are facing.
Ryan, who also serves as the inaugural Ambassador for Mature Age Employment, says: “The main challenge is that employers in general have a very negative attitude towards older people, even though older employees tend to be very successful, they stay on the job longer and they have fewer sick days.”
According to the 2015 Randstad Workmonitor report on mature age workers, only 44 per cent of Australian workplaces have policies in place to attract and retain people aged 55 and above. In addition, 29 per cent of employees surveyed believe older workers are less productive than their younger counterparts and take more sick leave.
Statistics like these confirm we have preconceived notions about what older workers can and cannot do – that they are less tech savvy, less committed or less flexible, says Steve Shepherd, employment market analyst at Randstad.
“We value age and maturity in CEOs and senior leadership, but that doesn’t filter down to middle management or lower,” he says. “The key here is that we are seeing a disconnect between employers and older workers, so there needs to be a more customised approach to employing them.”
HR departments can take a proactive role in attracting and retaining older workers. Beginning with the recruitment process, Ryan says employers need to eliminate unconscious bias and think not in terms of a candidate’s age but whether they are the right fit for the role.
“Look at the job and choose the person who is best equipped for the job you’ve got, and often that will be an older person,” Ryan says. “Give them the chance.”
Shepherd says he hears hiring managers compare meeting with older workers to “interviewing their mom or dad,” so getting past that point is the first step towards more equal hiring practices.
“We tend to mix with people who are like us, and the reality is that bias permeates the recruitment process,” he says.
Once biases are acknowledged, it becomes easier to create a workplace culture that supports older workers and shows maturity in terms of employment approach.
“You can learn a job, but the experiences you get over time cannot be replicated without age, and that’s what older workers bring to the table,” he says. “They have been there, done that, and if companies embrace that value and experience, there are benefits.”