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Ageism in the workplace starts as early as 45yrs old

About 20% of Australian mature workers – aged 55 years and over – say that they have difficulties finding work or securing sufficient hours. One of the primary reasons for this is their age, even though they are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. 

Older workers are more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace, forcing them to retire early. According to Ageing Workforce Ready (AWR) project leader Rachael Palmer, however, many stereotypes and beliefs about generational differences are not supported by evidence and age discrimination is often fuelled by myths.

“An age-inclusive environment that recognises the unique contribution of individuals, life-stages and experiences are one in which everyone can flourish,” she said. 

“Myths that reinforce competition between age-groups are unhelpful and untrue. An ageing workforce is a future; companies that don’t adapt will be left behind.”

Australian Human Rights Commission supports Palmer’s idea, stating that discrimination could impact not just the discriminated workers, but also the overall work as well. 

“These include higher absenteeism, lower or lost productivity, higher staff turnover and increased recruitment costs, as well as lost business opportunities from abandoning experience and corporate knowledge,” as the organisation reported. 

According to the Centre of Workplace Excellence, almost a third of Australians experienced some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work in the last 12 months — starting as early as 45 years of age. 

The myth about ageing workers and its impact

Ms Palmer shared five myths surrounding ageing workers, which are: 

  1. They have lower productivity and performance
  2. They cost the business more because of their experiences
  3. They are prone to health problems
  4. They don’t understand the technology
  5. They are just counting days until they retire

However, Ms Palmer said that these beliefs are not necessarily true. Instead, these beliefs indicate the perception of older workers as a homogenous group. 

Related: Age is the biggest perceived barrier to job opportunities in 2020

“People are all different, even those of a similar age,” she said. “ To base decisions on stereotypes and myths ignores people’s unique experience and motivations at any age.” 

In reality, however, older workers include multiple generations, and they could have a significant difference in cognitive functioning. 

“A 70-year-old has lived through historical events, life experiences, and a cultural context which shapes them differently to those experienced by a 50-year-old,” she explained. 

These myths have caused ageist behaviour, where about 10% of businesses reject any application from people above 50 years old. Some ageist behaviour could even impact the employee’s mental health, according to Ms Palmer. 

“People who are in stressful jobs, discriminated against at work, and experiencing low job satisfaction are more likely to suffer from depression,” she said.

“People start to believe that the stereotypes about older people do apply to them, which further erodes their self-esteem, which in turn can impact the effectiveness of their job applications.” 

Why should businesses employ older workers? 

Although there are some risks in accepting mature workers, according to Ms Palmer, they can be offset by the benefits of having mature workers.

One of the main benefits is the inclusive culture within the business that allows them to understand customers more. As a result, companies can improve their services and products that they provide to ageing customers.

“People over 45 years are significant consumers in our economy, yet often companies are marketing to a younger generation,” she said.  

Another benefit is that older workers have mental maturity. Other workers can learn from them and gain the experience that older workers have been accumulating over time. 

Employing older workers will also improve the company’s reputation, especially now as consumers and job seekers put more value on the organisation’s culture and how they respond to social issues. 

But most importantly, older workers could create a more stable workforce and reduce employee turnover rates. They tend to stay in the workforce for a longer period; it has been shown that the average job tenure of a 45 year old is more than double that of 25-35 year old. 

How to incorporate older workers in your workplace? 

One of the best ways to do this is by giving them opportunities to update their skill-set. This can be done by giving them training that incorporates adult learning principles that appeal to the learner’s motivation. 

It is also vital to empower mature workers by giving them roles as a mentor to younger employees. This could create a two-way mentoring that allows the older worker to learn through the experiences as well. 

Lastly, the most important thing is to allow older people to ease into retirement. According to Ms Palmer, this can be done by giving them a more flexible work option. 

“[It includes] giving older employees a choice to work part-time, take longer blocks of annual leave or control their start and finish times,” Ms Palmer said. 

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Verina Gading

Verina Gading

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