What Does the Future Hold for an Ageing Workforce?

Senior in suit with glasses

“I have made it a priority of my term as Age Discrimination Commissioner to address three major manifestations of age discrimination – elder abuse, older women at risk of homelessness and discrimination against older workers.”

A Real Problem

Unfortunately, age discrimination is a real problem in Australia. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2013 report, titled Fact or Fiction: Stereotypes of Older Australians, showed widespread prejudiced views about older people as forgetful, short-tempered, rigid and backwards looking. It found that many Australians see ageing as an inevitable process of decline, with the result that older people become a burden and a drain on resources.

In Truth...

Older workers are skilled, engaged and interested when they are given the opportunity to participate and contribute. Research clearly shows that older Australians bring significant strengths to the workplace. They have deep experience and skills and are loyal, committed and generally keen to keep learning. Older workers are productive and have common sense and an understanding of how workplaces operate.

For example, a recent Australian study which examined the daily work habits of 4,000 employees found that workers aged 55 years and over-performed at their best for approximately seven hours out of an eight-hour day, which is an impressive result for workers of any age.

“Research clearly shows that older Australians bring significant strengths to the workplace.”

Multigenerational Teams

It is not a question of playing one generation off against another. Currently (and for the first time in history) there are five generations in the workplace and they bring a diverse range of skills, experiences and expectations about the work environment and about working with others. The most effective workplaces develop multigenerational teams and so are able to leverage the strengths brought by each individual.

In my work, I am focusing on addressing barriers that prevent people from working for as long as they wish. Last year, about 60% of all age discrimination complaints to the Commission related to employment.

And the Commission’s 2016 Willing to Work inquiry and 2015 survey of workplace age discrimination showed that over a quarter of people over 50 had recently experienced age discrimination at work.

Survey on Employing Older Workers

Lady typing on a laptop

In 2018 I worked with the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) to carry out a survey of over 900 human resources practitioners about their attitudes to Employing Older Workers. We found that 30% of those surveyed said that their organisation had an age above which they were reluctant to recruit – and for nearly 70% of those, that age was 50.

There is a lot still to be done. But since I have been in my role, I have been encouraged by the tireless work I have seen of many people across the government, the business and community sectors, and the wider community, to address age discrimination and support older Australians to continue working as long as they wish.

The Hon. Dr. Kay Patterson AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission

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