In the third decade of the 21st Century, it is not only disappointing but genuinely puzzling that ageism still exists in the workplace today.
We know it from our lived experience but a joint research project between the Australian HR Institute and the Australian Human Rights Commission in April this year shone a light on this peculiar and counterproductive prejudice.
Their research revealed that almost 47 per cent of employers would baulk at hiring someone beyond a certain age, and the age at which an employee is considered ‘old’ is actually getting younger.
Just under 17 per cent of employers today classify people aged 51 to 55 as an ‘older worker’ compared with 12.5 per cent holding that view in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government’s Intergenerational Report released in June points to an ageing population and falling workforce participation rates.
That report predicts that over the next 40 years, the current ratio of four working-age people for every person aged over 65 would decline to just 2.7 people of working age for every person over 65.
With a growing number of baby boomers entering retirement age and nearly a quarter of Australians expected to be aged over 65 by 2060, it’s clear a change in attitude towards older workers is required.
The outdated view that somehow older workers are less productive really has no place in the modern workplace.
Older employees have invaluable knowledge and experience, and it’s in everyone’s interests to create a work environment that values employees of all ages.
The ageing population and workforce is a global phenomenon that presents both challenges and opportunities, and at Wesley Mission Queensland, we’re actively pursuing strategies to hire and retain older employees.
More than a third of our 3000-strong workforce is now aged over 50, 13.4 per cent are aged over 60, and our oldest employee – who works as an Auslan translator signing for the deaf community – is approaching 89!
Our older aged care workers are a huge asset to our organisation and make an incredible contribution to the services we provide.
Age should definitely not be a barrier and we introduced our ‘No Barriers’ program some years ago to encourage older employees to remain with us as long as possible.
We understand that people’s personal circumstances may change over time. They may be caring for ageing parents or relatives, looking after grandchildren a day or two a week, or they may simply want a bit more time to pursue other interests.
The No Barriers program gives workers aged over 50 the opportunity to reduce their hours or make flexible arrangements for their employment so they’re able to remain with us on terms that suit them.
Our aged care residents and their families trust us to provide high quality care, and having continuity of care is a very important element of that.
Our older workers often develop very special relationships with the residents and their families and form bonds and friendships that last many years – even decades in some cases.
It’s also well-known that the aged care sector is experiencing workforce shortages right now and it’s obviously in the interests of all concerned that we do everything we can to retain those workers.
Our experience is that older workers are able to build rapport quite quickly with our residents because they’ve shared the highs and lows of various periods and events over the past 20, 30 or 40 years.
That enables them to have conversation that pave the way for those relationships to evolve from worker and client to genuine friends.
As someone who just turned 50 and with parents in their mid-70s, I feel a really strong connection to people of my parents’ generation.
In the future as I look to have more flexibility in my own work, I am very strongly considering directly caring for our elderly residents down the track and I hope others who are reading this will do the same.
It is clear that people are living and working longer in Australia and it’s a trend that’s set to continue.
As an age-friendly employer, we are committed to creating a work environment that suits everyone, and that’s a win for our employees, a win for our residents and a win for our organisation.
As we celebrated Aged Care Employee Day on Saturday 7 August, I look forward to the day when the stigma attached to older workers no longer exists and we value and respect the contribution of workers of all ages, both in this vital sector and in the wider community.
Steve Eltis is the director of People and Culture at Wesley Mission Queensland.Do you have an idea for a story?
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