The business value of workers over 50
The importance of experience.
In a recent ABC news article, Gary Martin, head of the Australian Institute of Management (WA), was quoted as saying that he would have to use the word 'rampant' to describe age discrimination in the workplace. When Martin started writing about ageism in the workplace and sharing his articles on LinkedIn, he was stunned by the response "It opened the floodgates," he said. Martin stated that he believe that this form of discrimination is the most normalised, "Organisations don't counter it in the same way they might counter sex, race or disability-type discrimination."
In 2015 The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) published a national prevalence survey highlighting just how pervasive the issue of mature aged discrimination was amongst Australian companies. The survey found that a quarter (27%) of Australians over the age of 50 experienced mature age discrimination in the workplace. Not only is the prevalence of this discrimination a moral issue but it is also an economic one as well. The UK’s department for work and pensions notes that in the UK the market will need to fill 13.5 million jobs over the next decade and that only 7 million young workers will graduate from universities. Companies will have to embrace matured aged workers otherwise their business could face the following risks over the next decade:
Loss of experience and knowledge of workers gained from many years of employment
Poor or underperformance of staff denied opportunities for further training and job development
Low morale and premature exit of staff who feel they have no options for phasing their retirement through part-time or flexible working or step-down roles
Risk of age discrimination claims and associated costs
What is age discrimination?
The AHRC notes that age discrimination occurs when a person is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities as others in a similar situation, because he or she is considered to be too old or too young.
Age discrimination can be carried out in two ways:
Direct age discrimination if a person is treated less favourably because of their age than a person of another age would be treated in the same or similar circumstances; and
Indirect age discrimination when someone puts in place conditions which appear to treat everyone equally, but which actually disadvantage some people because of their age.
Matured age discrimination that is experienced in Australia, according to the AHRC’s national prevalence survey, is related to:
Limiting employment promotion
Perceptions that older people have outdated skills
Perceptions older people are to slow to learn new things
Jokes and derogatory comments about age
Many over 50 mature age workers face this type of discrimination because of the myths that surround mature aged workers, despite studies proving that mature aged workers are:
Just as productive as their younger counterparts
Just as successful in training
Take less short-term sickness absence
Offset any loss of speed with better judgement based on years of experience
Common Myths and Facts about mature aged workers
Myth: Mature age workers may be prone to health problems
Fact: Australians are living longer and healthier with the current life expectancy of men being 78 and women 83
Fact: Mature age workers are less likely to take sick leave and experience work related injuries
Myth: Mature age workers take longer to become productive.
Fact: Growth in using mature age workers for short term or interim project work indicates a much faster ability to produce results.
Myth: Mature age workers will cost a business more for their experience
Fact: Mature age employees can reduce costs through increased rates of retention (this is because workers over the age of 55 are five times less likely to change jobs compared with workers aged 20-24)
Fact: Retention of mature age workers helps maintain corporate memory and saves on the cost of re-inventing business practices
Fact: There is a strategic business advantage of having employees who reflect the diversity of the customer base, as the Australian population ages
Myth: There is no long-term benefit to training and developing mature age workers
Fact: Australia’s ageing population means business will need to invest in mature age employees
Myth: Younger workers are better performers than mature age workers
Fact: Experience is a better indicator of productivity than age
Myth: Mature age workers won’t be able to adapt to changes and new technology
Fact: Older people are the fastest growing users of technology according to the ABS
Fact: Older people can be trained to use new technologies
There’s a tempest brewing in the Australian workplace. The greying of the vast baby-boomer generation, cultural misconceptions about ageing, and a poor sense of how to improve the situation have created the prospect of a head-on collision between a group of people who want to work and organisations that have no satisfying place for them. Failing to use this labour resource wisely will result in companies being burdened by unnecessary risks and a loss in productivity.