Older workers could be a panacea for the aged care industry’s workforce woes, Darragh O Keeffe reports.
Forget Gen Y.
If the findings of research conducted by Bupa Care Services are anything to go by, aged care providers should be targeting older workers in their communities in order to address their staff shortages.
Consider this. When Bupa analysed its internal data on staff turnover, length of service, sickness, workers’ compensation and take up of company reward programs, it was its older workers who stood out.
Staff members aged 60 and over comprise 10 per cent of Bupa’s workforce, but they represent just 3 per cent of the total claims for workers’ compensation. They take less sick leave than other age groups and they are over-represented when it comes to the company’s staff recognition program.
Bupa said the findings countered some common misconceptions about older workers.
“The first part of the research was to look at what our internal statistics told us,” said Adam Bullock,
HR strategic projects manager at Bupa. “Everything we found completely went against the negative stereotypes we often hear about older workers in the media.
“We found their loyalty is greater compared to other age groups. The average length of service for a 60- to 69-year-old in our business is over nine years, compared to 3.7 years for a 40- to 49-year-old. Similarly, the 60- to 69-year-olds take less sick leave than any other age group.”
Bullock said the qualitative phase of the research, consisting of focus groups with 20 Bupa employees over the age of 60, provided some explanation for the positive statistics.
“The overwhelming message that came out was that we have a really engaged group of employees who are here working in aged care because they want to and because they enjoy what they do,” he said.
Bullock said another key sentiment from the focus groups was that the older workers greatly valued the relationship aspect of their work.
“We’re in the business of care, that’s our whole business. And for our older workers, their ability to form these deeper connections with the residents in their care actually improves as they age, so they really valued and enjoyed that,” he said.
Interestingly, Bullock said a number of the older staff members surveyed, who held a range of roles from nursing through to personal carer, had come to work in aged care later in life.
“We spoke to a couple of participants who had changed their careers and come to aged care from the age of 50, when they felt their ability to do more traditional office-based careers started to diminish. They love the experience of coming to aged care and having a positive impact on their residents’ lives.”
Elsewhere, the older workers’ over-representation in the Bupa staff recognition program, Personal Best Legend status, showed their innovation in delivering personalised care.
“When it was introduced two years ago the program completely transformed our way of working, yet it’s our older workers that seem from these statistics to have embraced it the most. That busts the myth we often hear that older workers don’t like change.”
And, it’s not just staff shortages that older workers could remedy. Bupa also discovered from its analysis that a quarter of its volunteers were aged between 60 and 69.
According to independent recruitment consultant P.J. Maynard, employers are recognising the benefits of older workers, whose intent and life experience makes them a great complement to young and middle-age workers.
Maynard, who specialises in executive recruitment in aged care, said she was increasingly meeting with candidates aged over 60. In the past 18 months she had placed three executives over the age of 63 with aged care organisations in rural and regional areas.
“In fact one person was over the age of 70 and she had intended to go back to her country roots where her family live, so there is intent in terms of the organisation that they chose to work with; they’re committed, they’re loyal, and they want to be there,” she said.
She added that older workers had a mental self-efficacy. They had a sense of self worth, wisdom and were politically savvy, which had a knock-on effect on staff and teams.
“Younger workers are attracted to older workers who emulate this sense of self-worth and knowledge. They’re almost pied pipers in work environments because they’ve been there, they’ve seen it all, they’ve done it, and there’s nothing for them to have to prove.”
The majority of aged care operators say they want to attract and retain younger workers. However, it was important to strive for a diverse workforce, which should include a mix of ages, Maynard said.
Bullock, meanwhile, offered a word of caution when asked for his advice on what other aged care providers could do to attract older workers.
“Very strongly their message in response was they didn’t want to be a ‘special case’. A lot of them dismissed that question out of hand, in terms of age specific benefits or special treatment.”
However, he said many respondents commented that companies should focus on flexibility in terms of working conditions.
“The statistic I draw to in the research is that across the aged care sector 56 per cent of older workers still have financial dependents and 54 per cent spend time each week caring for family members. So what aged care can provide is flexibility of working hours, to be able to juggle work with caring and looking after grandchildren or ageing parents,” said Bullock.Do you have an idea for a story?
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