Speaking to Baby Boomers in their work environment and you will find a lot of them are quite cagey when it comes to revealing their age. But it’s not necessarily vanity at the root of the issue, ageism is alive and well in a lot of workplaces, but it can be combatted in three steps.

With advances in medical technologies, improvements in health services, greater awareness of nutrition and the hazards of smoking along with safer working environments, Australians have a life expectancy greater than ever before. This also allows us to be more active and stay in the workforce for longer too. Amongst older workers, defined as those aged 55 and over, employment has increased by 4.8% per year in the last five years, which is almost twice the growth rate of those in the 25-54 years bracket. And with the increase in the retirement age to 67 by 2023, it is expected the labour force participation by older workers will rise further with time.

The good news is that with Australia’s shift towards a services-oriented economy it should be easier for older workers to remain highly productive as they approach their retirement goals. As the share of the population aged 55 and over continues to increase, it becomes even more important for all businesses to ensure their environment is inclusive of their older workforce participants.

Ageism in the workplace

A recent report by job website, Indeed, titled Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Fostering an environment for all employees to thrive* found that 34% of Baby Boomers say they hide part of their identity at work. One of the most common things they hide is their age, reported by 33% of respondents. Thus providing evidence that older Australians are subject to ageism in the workplace.

With some employers banking on younger candidates being a better long-term investment, they risk depriving business of the wealth of experience that more mature workers can bring to a role. On the surface the changes to the nature of work in Australia should allow Baby Boomers to participate in the workforce for much longer than in previous generations, this age discrimination can lead to roles going to younger candidates, but a reduction in promotion opportunities and in some cases forcing them into retirement.

A 2018 survey of over 900 HR practitioners conducted by the Australian HR Institute, the Australian Human Rights Commission revealed that up to 30% of Australian employers are still reluctant to hire workers over a certain age, and for more than two thirds of them, that age was over 50. This is a clear indication that ageism is still prevalent in a lot of Australian workplaces.

How do we combat workplace ageism?

To assist in overcoming ageism in the workplace and the harm that it can cause to the employee, business and the economy in general, action is required. Here are some ways to overcome those outdated ageist stereotypes that influence perceptions and make your business more friendly to older workers and job seekers:

Flexible working hours

These include the ability work from home, leave work early or the ability to participate in flexible working hours program. Part time roles and job sharing are also great options for those wanting to ease into retirement and still remain employed. More accessible workstations and a focus on better workplace ergonomics are also things that can help accommodate not only older workers, but the needs of employees of all ages.

Tackle unconscious bias

While more than 60% of the complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission are regarding age discrimination related to employment, it is important for employers to ensure that their recruiters and wider workforce undertake unconscious bias training. This will not only help prevent age-related bias occurring at your workplace but in all areas where unconscious bias is found. Additionally incorporating age diversity into your Diversity & Inclusion Policies will assist.

Encourage reverse mentoring

Reverse mentoring was popularised by former CEO of GE, Jack Welcharound 20 years ago. Pair a younger employee with an older employee to pass on new ideas and perspectives. Leveraging each other’s strengths and lived experiences results in greater collaboration and encourages an environment of mutual respect. Mentoring doesn’t have to be one-directional—we all have plenty to learn and knowledge to pass on.

The impact of COVID-19

Although there seems to have been a partial recovery, the instability in the share market, economic restriction, housing, including rental returns the global economy economy continues to battle with COVID-19, leading to further declines in the financial circumstances of Australia’s older population—and increasing the pressure to work for longer. The ongoing effects on superannuation may also force some older workers to remain in, or desire to remain in the workforce for longer than anticipated. Unfortunately, older workers who find themselves unemployed can struggle to find a pathway back to employment.

As a result, it’s more important than ever before for businesses to battle ageist attitudes in the workplace to ensure that not only their company, but also the economy in general, can reap the benefits of a thriving multigenerational workforce.

*The research in ‘Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Fostering an environment for all employees to thrive’ was commissioned by Thrive PR on behalf of Indeed and conducted by YouGov. The study was conducted online between 13 – 19 February 2020, involving 1,512 participants.
Read the full report – offers.indeed.com/AU_en_081820_DIReport_CON-EBOOK_CM.html

Key findings from the report:

  • 34% of Baby Boomers report they hide part of their identity at work. With 33% reporting they hide is their age.
  • 30% of Australian employers are reluctant to hire workers over a certain age, most commonly 50
  • 60% of complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission are regarding age discrimination related to employment
  • Just over half of employees in Australia report that their employer actually employs a diverse workforce
  • 30% of LGBTIQ+ employees, and 29% of workers who have a disability, report they do not feel able to speak up openly at work without fear of criticism
  • 20% of workers who have a disability do not believe their organisation would take appropriate action in response to an incident of discrimination in the workplace
  • 80% of people surveyed report that when looking for a new job, it’s important that the places where they apply to work, promote diversity and inclusion.
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