How an employer approaches the engagement of older employees and plans for their transition from the business is highly revealing.

Done successfully, not only does it boost productivity, protect intellectual property and minimise workers compensation costs, it actually defines the employer in the eyes of the workforce, stakeholders and customers – building and strengthening the employer brand while fostering higher levels of employee engagement.

The ageing of Australia’s population has been particularly apparent since the 1960s and is attributed to falling mortality and fertility rates combined with the effect of a baby boom generation as it moves into the older age brackets. Over the past two decades the workforce (and especially the full-time workforce) has been ageing at a rate faster than the general population. Workers in education and health are amongst the oldest workers, with fewer younger people and more older women in the workforce.

 

The implications of an ageing workforce cannot be isolated to a single sector of society. Governments, businesses and communities may be uniquely affected by the issue, but the overall challenge is interrelated with no one institution able to resolve the issue of its own accord. Governments must explain and resource education relating to relevant legislation; companies must understand the diverse needs of employees while managing risk, and employee and community advocates must ensure employees have a voice and unbiased information with which to make decisions.

“We are experiencing what is called an ageing society; that is the proportion of older retired people to younger working people increases each year, and we are all living longer. In this environment, age discrimination in the workplace is a growing problem as well as a damaging one.”  

– The Hon. Susan Ryan AO / Age Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission

Age discrimination is both overt and tacit in many, if not all, workplaces. Age discrimination is reflected in the actions and perceptions of colleagues both young and old.

For example, there is often an expectation among peers that when you reach retirement age, you leave. Among younger workers there are the standard ‘too slow, technologically challenged, backward-thinking’ attitudes regarding older employees. Discriminatory beliefs held outside the workplace are brought to work (we do not transmogrify into ‘worker’ from ‘community member’ when passing through the lobby doors each morning).

When ageism impacts productivity through poor culture, mental health issues, loss of corporate intelligence or higher insurance premiums, the impact on the bottom line starts to generate action at the senior management level. But, like a tanker too close to shore, its often too late to avert serious impact on the business. Cultural change takes time.

Applying the research we have conducted into the perceptions and expectations of older people, Ellis Jones is currently working with infrastructure and health organisations to develop workforce strategies by taking a shared value approach.

Through our work with the Shared Value Project, we have developed a model for:

  • Understanding the challenges unique to each workplace
  • Building flexibility into human resource policy and planning
  • Facilitating collaboration among business leaders and community stakeholders
  • Engaging the workforce in discussion about whole-of-employment lifecycle directions
  • Training line managers to identify age discrimination and encourage open communication with employees about their goals
  • Web based and traditional forum development, including the use of social media
  • Independent support to plan transitions into employment
  • Analytics to measure progress (including downward impact on workers compensation)

Every minute we grow older. That fact unites us all. How you tell the story, engage with your people, and plan for the future is the mark of any business.

For more information, contact Rhod Ellis-Jones on 03 9416 0049.