Organisations are becoming more used to hiring older workers, with some of the key markers of workplace ageism declining, according to a major survey of human resources staff.
Fewer employers are reluctant to hire older workers than the last survey four years ago, with the number reporting no age restrictions jumping from 29% to 55%, says the report published by the Australian Human Resources Institute and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
“This is a good sign,” argues Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson.
‘More recruiters don’t see age as a barrier’
“Age discrimination in employment is tied to damaging, dated and inaccurate ideas about older workers. It is heartening to see the age at which people define ‘older’ has shifted upwards to 61 years or more and that more recruiters don’t see age as a barrier.
“As we live longer and healthier lives, it is crucial for people to be able to contribute through the paid workforce, which is not only good for the economy and workplaces but contributes to a sense of meaning and purpose for individuals.”
Previous Human Rights Commission work found that over a quarter of Australians aged 50 plus had experienced some form of age discrimination in the preceding two years. The commission has highlighted the role human resources and recruitment policies can play in leading change.
There has been an uptick in respondents reporting definitely no reluctance to employing older workers (28% in 2018, up from 8% in 2014).
The number of respondents saying there is no difference between the generations at work across a range of categories has increased. This included a 14% increase in people indicating no difference on technology skills and abilities, a sign that the so-called ‘digital divide’ may be shrinking.
People are increasingly expecting to work until an older age. 58% said they expect to retire at 66 or older (compared with 42% in 2014), and 20% expect to retire at 71 or older (16% in 2014).
Flexible work is the top factor respondents say would encourage them to remain in the workforce, followed by job satisfaction. Flexible working hours is the most common tool organisations use to retain older workers.
Respondents indicate the main advantages of recruiting older workers are the experience they bring (76%) and the professional knowledge they have acquired (68%).
Ageism continues …“It was disappointing that more than half of the respondents said their organisation has no transition to retirement strategy in place for their workers and that very few offer intergenerational management or unconscious bias training to staff.”
But it’s not all good news.
Among the one-third of respondents indicating they are reluctant to recruit older workers, around two-thirds indicated 50 as the age above which they became wary.
“A number of indicators are not so positive,” says Patterson.
“For example, it was disappointing that more than half of the respondents said their organisation has no transition to retirement strategy in place for their workers and that very few offer intergenerational management or unconscious bias training to staff.
“This is significant because we know that flexible work is key to retaining older workers and also that both workers and managers often find it difficult to have conversations about ‘what’s next’. We need more change in this area.”
And although many recognise the value older workers can bring, organisations appear to be doing a poor job of making the most of it.
“It is also of concern that only 26% of organisations capture corporate knowledge when older workers leave, although roughly two-thirds of respondents acknowledge older worker departures have caused a loss of key skills and knowledge in their organisation (an increase of 17% over the 2014 results),” Patterson says.
“Overall there are some solid gains, but much remains to be done.”
The lack of planning by human resources teams as baby boomers leave the workplace is concerning, says Lyn Goodear, CEO of the HR Institute.
“Workforce planning that includes succession planning is regarded as a core strategic human resource activity, yet the data in this study leads to the conclusion that organisations may not be giving it the attention it deserves,” she thinks.
“If that is true, it’s a conclusion that should sound an alarm signal to HR practitioners with respect to organisational sustainability.”
Around one-third of the survey’s 922 respondents work in the public sector.