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Age-old problem

Retaining older employers needs to be given more prominence in government initiatives, according to a new study.

Employers need to devise ways of re-engaging with its ageing workforce as the nursing shortage worsens. Retaining older employers also needs to be given more prominence in government initiatives, according to a new study looking at Australia’s ageing nursing workforce.

The workforce shortage is well documented with many strategies suggested to resolve the issue.

This includes increasing migration or training places, changing skill mix or nurses’ roles and greater use of unregulated or unlicensed workers.

However, a factor given relatively little prominence in the debate is methods of retaining older employees who, in most developed countries now, form a substantial and growing component of the workforce, said the study appearing in the Australian Health Review.

“As the generation of baby boomers are now reaching retirement age, the number of workers leaving the workplace will increase over the next 20 years,” said the authors Elizabeth Graham and Christine Duffield, from the Centre for Health Management, UTS.

“This phenomenon is not unique to nursing but has a greater workforce impact because it is a service industry, relying very heavily on person-power rather than technology in its work.”

Australia falls behind many other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in its workforce participation rates of mature workers.

From 2003 to 2007 the proportion of nurses aged 50 years and over increased from 28 per cent to 33 per cent, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

As nursing is physically and emotionally demanding, an understanding of the effects of ageing on the ability of older nurses to continue working is needed in developing a retention policy.

Overseas research indicates that there are several measures to assist retaining older nurses, including making flexible working options more available that don’t adversely affect pension and superannuation provisions and a job redesign to address the issues of heavy workload and stress.

Some have suggested that specific roles focusing on aspects of work such as admission and discharge processes could be developed for older nurses. However, the study found few reports of such strategies being successfully implemented.

There has also been little research conducted in Australia focusing on older nurses, other than to highlight that it is a problem.

“It appears that older nurses have not been asked their retirement intentions, nor have they been canvassed for strategies that would encourage them to extend their working life, even for a short period, beyond their expected retirement age,” Graham and Duffield said.

“It is clear that one strategy for resolving the shortage of skilled nurses is to focus on their continued participation in the workforce. To do so requires understanding what will motivate them to continue, what employers can do to minimise the impact of heavier workloads and the physical effects of ageing and the measures policy makes can implement to support their retention.

“Without understanding the issues for this group of nurses, it is impossible to plan for future retention.”

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