Employing older workers: overall some solid gains, but much remains to be done

Australians have one of the highest life expectancies in countries within the OECD and forecasts indicate this will rise well into the nineties over the coming decades.

As people are living longer, healthier lives and remaining in the workforce beyond the traditional notion of ‘retirement age’, it’s crucial that organisations more meaningfully engage with older segments of the workforce.

To understand current perceptions towards and experiences of older workers in Australia, the Australian HR Institute (AHRI), in association with the Australian Human Rights Commission, conducted new research focusing on social attitudes, recruitment, retention and training – with respect to an ageing workforce. Their report, Employing Older Workers, is the third in a series of similar research projects exploring the state of play regarding older workers in Australia.

Overall, the findings indicate some positive shifts, with respect to perceptions of older employees, and attitudes towards retirement, in comparison to previous reports from 2012 (Mature age workforce participation) and 2014 (Older workers).

For example, a majority (63%) of respondents classify an older worker as 61 or older (an upward shift since 2014), and
58% of respondents expect to retire at the age of 66 or over (compared to 42% in 2014). Additionally, one in three respondents (34%) believe there is “no difference” between younger and older workers’ technology skills and abilities (a 14% increase since 2014).

While these findings are promising, a number of indicators in the report were less positive with respect to current organisational practices. Most notably, over half (56%) of respondent organisations do not have a “transition-to-retirement strategy” in place, despite 63% of respondents indicating older worker departures have caused a “loss of key skills and knowledge” in their organisation (a 17% increase since 2014).

Overall this report highlights the need for organisations to prioritise and implement HR practices that can more effectively support mature-aged workers, as they remain in, and eventually transition out of the workforce.

Aim

To investigate attitudes and organisational practices regarding older workers in Australia. In particular, it explored the experiences of older workers through four key research areas:

  • Attitudes & perceptions
  • Recruitment
  • Retention
  • Training & Development
Method

The survey was distributed to the member database of the Australian HR Institute (AHRI), during July and August 2018. It attracted 922 respondents. The survey follows a similar set of questions put to the AHRI database in 2012 and 2014.

Findings

A key narrative from this report, was that “overall there are some solid gains, but much remains to be done” (The Hon Dr Kay Paterson, Age Discrimination Commissioner).

This narrative is evidenced from conflicting findings in the following three research areas:

Recruitment

There is an increase in the perceived advantages of recruiting older workers:

  • More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents see experience, and two-thirds (68%) see professional knowledge, as the main advantages of recruiting older workers
  • When asked to compare older and younger workers on a range of characteristics, older workers were seen as more reliable and loyal, having greater awareness and higher work attendance

However in practice, there remain tangible age barriers in the recruitment of mature-aged employees:

  • Almost a third (30%) of respondents indicate their organisation has an age above which they are reluctant to recruit, and for two thirds of them (68%), that age is 50.
  • Fewer respondents in 2018 compared to 2014, report that date of birth details are excluded from job application forms

 Retention

Flexible work is reported as the most common tool for retaining older workers:

  • Flexible working hours is the top reason respondents cite, as encouraging them to remain in the workforce (increasing 8% since 2014)
  • 76% of respondent organisations leverage flexible working hours to retain older employees

However, organisations aren’t doing enough to retain the skills and capabilities of older workers when they do retire:

  • Only 26% of respondent organisations are methodically capturing corporate knowledge from exiting older workers
  • Only 21% of respondent organisations have a formalised transition-to-retirement strategy in place

Training and Development

While unconscious bias training is increasingly offered with respect to managing organisational diversity:

  • 22% of respondents stated their line managers are given training on unconscious bias

Organisations are seldom offering training on how to manage diverse generations specifically, and how to have ‘difficult’ conversations with older employees about “what’s next”:

  • Only 8% of respondents report that line managers in their organisation are given training on how to manage different generations
  • Since 2014, there has been an 8% increase in organisations that ‘seldom or never’ address age-related bias as part of their unconscious bias training
Implications:

Overall, the findings of the Employing Older Workers report beg the question – are Australian organisations doing enough to proactively manage an ageing workforce?

To the extent that there are gaps in practice, this report highlights three core considerations:

  1. Keep workforce planning front of mind: Despite workforce succession planning being a core strategic HR activity, it appears that organisations are not giving it the attention it deserves. Initiatives such as phased retirement planning, and reverse mentoring programs, can facilitate knowledge transfer between older and younger workers, and promote organisational sustainability.
  2. Don’t underestimate the power of flexible work: Flexible arrangements are key to retaining older workers, as they allow them to continue making a meaningful and positive contribution to the workplace. Not only do flexible working arrangements keep older workers engaged, but they create additional opportunities to capture critical corporate knowledge.
  3. Upskill your leaders to manage the multigenerational workforce: Training that addresses age-related bias, and enables managers to engage effectively with multiple generations, is critical given our current organisational landscape. Today’s business leaders should be equipped with the skills to make unbiased hiring decisions, lead difficult conversations about ‘what’s next’, and effectively plan for the future

Ensuring best practice methods for engaging a multi-generational workforce, will be critical to maximizing the full-spectrum of employees, and maintaining sustainable organisations into the future.

For more information, contact Alana Jansen.

To read the full report, see Australian HR Institute. (2018). Employing Older Workers: Research Report


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