It’s no secret that establishing a diverse culture within an organisation is essential for innovation, growth and competitive advantage – but this is often overlooked when it comes to age diversity. How can organisations avoid ageism, better engage older generations of workers and reap the benefits?
Older Australians in the workplace
Australians are increasingly working to older ages – a trend driven by improved health care and life expectancy, along with economic setbacks (such as the pandemic) and labour shortages. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the national workforce grew by nearly 491,000 people between October 2019 and October 2022 – and 186,000 of those new workers were aged 55 years or over.
Unfortunately, despite more mature personnel in the workforce than ever before, age discrimination remains prevalent. In fact, research has found that experiences of age discrimination faced by Australia’s older workers almost doubled between 2016 and 2021. According to The Australian Seniors Series: Ageing in the Workforce 2021 report, one in five workers over 50 has experienced age discrimination in the workplace, and over 40 per cent reported feeling patronised in the workplace because of their age.
While older workers may experience direct discrimination which affects their ability to thrive in the workplace, they may also become disengaged due to other, more subtle reasons. To create a truly age inclusive culture, organisations need to be aware of various factors which could lead to older workers disengaging from their work, and in worst case scenarios, leaving an organisation. Such factors may include a preference for traditional ways of working, having a different learning style to other workers, having less interest or energy to fit a standard model of working or even reporting to a younger or less experienced manager. Luckily, with a bit of awareness and agility, organisations can cultivate a workplace inclusive of older workers.
Four best practice ways to engage older workers
- Offer flexibility. Just as younger workers have various commitments and preferences for how they wish to work, so too do older workers. Older employees often want to prioritise time with grandchildren, elderly parents or various passion projects. They may not wish to commute long distances, so the option to work from home may be desired. They may also simply wish to work less hours and enjoy a semi-retirement – all aspects for employers to consider when wanting to hire – and retain – older workers.
- Pair older workers with younger workers. This is an essential step to prevent age silos and instead encourage collaboration between different generations of workers. When training and working together, different generations can learn from each other – older workers may play a key role as coaches with extensive experience and knowledge, while younger workers may have more in-depth understanding of new technologies and working practices.
- Provide diversity training for all staff. This is key to building awareness and creating a culture where ageism is not tolerated, and inclusiveness is encouraged. It’s common to develop unconscious bias around factors such as a person’s age, so training is important to recognise and mitigate this bias.
- Develop age inclusive hiring practices. Older workers may be put off from even starting at your organisation, or may be rejected due to unconscious bias on the part of the hiring manager. Practical steps to ensure your hiring process is age inclusive include: leveraging traditional job application forms (paper, not just digital), removing age-sensitive questions such as date of birth or future aspirations, and including older staff on recruiting panels.