The Power of Oldness!

The Power of Oldness!

Older workers offer a wealth of experience and knowledge to organisations yet they are regularly discriminated against and find it difficult to gain re-employment if they lose a job.

Workplace policies which promote the employment of people over 50 and focus on training and retaining this valuable sector of society can drive great returns to individual businesses but also benefit the economy on a macro level.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan has described the current situation for older workers as ‘often disastrous’ as many people who lose their jobs in their fifties struggle to find a new role. She urges government and organisations to look at mandating policies which mean tougher penalties for organisations found guilty of workplace discrimination.

One of the biggest challenges facing older workers is organisational culture and the idea that employees somehow lose their energy or value once they reach a certain age. To counter this thinking the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) has put together a compelling business case, which focuses on the benefits of building and retaining a diverse workforce which includes older employees.

Other organisational advantages of hiring mature age workers according to ACCI:

  • Businesses obtain a better return on investment in human capital by retaining or recruiting the ‘advantages’ of significant length of service, investment in training and wealth of accumulated experience.
  • It enables businesses to tap into a source of skill and labour when current sources of labour supply become scarce.
  • Maximises an organisation’s chances of employing the best people for the job by considering a full range of job seekers including mature aged people.
  • Mature aged workers have networks, external interests and experiences that can add value to a business.
  • Organisations benefit from a strong commitment to a business by mature aged workers who are often more loyal and stay with your business longer.
  • Enables organisations to respond to the changing age profile of customers and clients and the need to reflect this in the workforce. It enables an organisation to be seen as part of the community by mirroring the community!
  • Mature aged workers are often the corporate memory with lessons of experience, often not recorded, available to be imparted to younger workers
  • Enables businesses to market themself as a good employer by promoting diversity in the workforce and being seen to respond to emerging pressures to address organisational culture through making changes to traditional human resource practices.
  • Hiring mature aged workers enables organisations to take advantage of government-funded financial incentives, provision of special training grants and support for job creation.
  • Enables businesses to respond to changes to the operating environment, competitive pressures and economic circumstances affecting a business.
  • Ensures organisations become better at identifying and understanding any looming problems in the workforce and opportunities that could be developed and future workforce requirements.

Despite the large number of reasons why it is advantageous to employ mature aged workers there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about employees in this age group, including the idea that their experience and technical skills may be out of date, there could be added health and safety issues, they are slower and less productive than younger workers and they are likely to have a shorter tenure.

To try and counter some of these negative and often false prejudices organisations and the population more widely have about older people the Australian Human Rights Commission has launched a campaign called The Power of Oldness which aims to stop age discrimination. While the campaign is focused on the wider community, in launching the campaign Commissioner Ryan mentioned employers as a target group saying they are in the best position to take action which reduces discrimination.

“There is a strong business case for employers to make sure they do not discriminate on the basis of age. If employers and recruiters judge on capacity to do the job, rather than the number of birthdays a candidate has racked up, they are much more likely to hire the most productive employees they are always seeking,” she said.

However, understanding the advantages of a diversity strategy are a lot more straightforward than implementing the changes necessary to effect organisational change. There may be a large number of barriers in place and despite policy changes it can be complicated trying to change a corporate culture.

ACCI proposes a nine step process for developing a strategy for recruiting and maintaining mature aged workers.

  1. Review whether organisational culture (current personnel policies and management style) affects the employment of mature aged workers and therefore may need to be changed.
  2. Identify what alternative jobs or flexible arrangements (i.e. shorter hours, different start and finish times, additional unpaid or purchased leave) can be offered to encourage retiring workers to keep working or entice mature aged workers back into the workforce.
  3. Ensure that any changes to the culture of the organisation benefit the business as a whole and do not lead to the loss of key younger employees.
  4. Communicate to all staff the reasons for and value of the business broadening its approach to employment.
  5. Don’t create age clusters, involve other generation groups where necessary to achieve greater harmony between groups.
  6. Introduce age-awareness training for HR personnel, managers and other key personnel.
  7. Support individuals or groups of staff who want to develop initiatives to combat age barriers.
  8. Encourage pre-retirement workers to pass on knowledge and competencies to other employees thus ensuring succession planning and minimising loss of ‘corporate knowledge’.
  9. Remove ageist barriers in language, processes and policies that might hinder retaining or recruiting mature aged workers.

Care Corporate has a Senior Care program  which offers access to a range of bespoke products and services designed to help organisations support and retain their valuable older employees. For more information click here.


This Better Workplace Bulletin was first published in February 2015