Treating older workers better
As Australia’s workforce ages, policies that combat ageism and support older workers can be used to help senior staff stay on the job, according to new research.
Dr Leigh-Ann Onnis is a Senior Lecturer at James Cook University’s College of Business, Law & Governance. She was part of a collaborative study with Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Work + Wellbeing, and the NSW Centre for Work Health and Safety that examined human resource practices oriented towards older workers.
“In Australia, workforce participation rates for workers aged 65 and over have more than doubled in the past twenty years. With a critical need to engage and retain older workers, organisations need practices designed to meet older workers’ specific needs,” said Dr Onnis.
The researchers surveyed 300 Australian employees over the age of 45 in order to uncover what was important to them.
“Practices which alleviate age discrimination and focus on continued meaningful work opportunities and career paths for older workers were valuable,” said Dr Onnis.
She said this included creating new roles or redesigning work so it is appealing to older employees, providing flexible work arrangements, giving older workers an opportunity to have input into workload allocation, and supporting training for their skill development.
Dr Onnis said it was crucial that ageism was addressed.
“In 2021 the Australian Human Rights Commission released a report stating 63% of older people reported experiencing ageism in the past five years, with those between 40–61 experiencing this as exclusion from further employment or promotion,” said Dr Onnis.
She said the potential benefits of practices supporting older workers can be lost where ageism and/or age-discrimination is present in the work environment.
“Initiatives to promote discrimination-free workplaces include training line-managers in unconscious bias and age awareness programs, and recognising the capabilities and limitations associated with ageing,” said Dr Onnis.
She said researchers believe it is the organisation of work and the work environment, rather than chronological age per se, that influences older workers’ wellbeing and, therefore, the length of their working life.
Dr Leigh-Ann Onnis