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Out in the cold: why can't we warm to mature workers

According to a report, mature age workers feel excluded from the workforce.
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Out in the cold: why can

Out in the cold: why can't we warm to mature workers

20 January 2020

Many mature age workers feel excluded from the workforce and believe they have limited flexible work options and substandard development opportunities, according to a report from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR).

The report found that by 2050 almost one third of the population would be older than 60, and companies needed to think and act differently to attract and retain talent. 
The national benchmarking survey included more than 2000 Australian workers aged 18 to 81 from more than 1500 companies. Mature age workers were defined as over 45 years however the analysis showed consistent shifts in experiences for employees aged 55 and over.

Benefits of managing an ageing workforce

We are moving into a time of multiple age groups in the workforce with their own set of needs. The study showed male and female workers aged 55-64 held the most negative views about a positive age diversity climate and male and female workers aged 35-44 showed the highest rate of agreement with the belief that older workers should retire to make way for the next generation.  Given these beliefs, companies still have a long way to go to develop age diverse, inclusive, flexible, tailorable policies, practices, education, consistent management application, knowledge sharing and evaluation. 

Statistical analyses linking practices and outcomes in this research show that when workers aged 55 plus perceive an age-inclusive workplace including retraining, job redesign, mentoring and knowledge sharing across all ages they: 
  • experience greater work engagement
  • have better psychological well-being
  • are less likely to plan to exit the organisation, and
  • are less likely to experience burnout.
These benefits are further enhanced when workers aged 55 plus perceive they have ‘individual’ HR and work practices such as: 
  • flexible working
  • well-designed jobs
  • a good fit between work and needs or skills
  • a balance between work and care responsibilities.
However, survey participants perceived their organisations had low to moderate availability of individualised practices with scores poorest for 55 years plus, except for females over 65.  

Females aged 65 and over tended to be more positive about an age-inclusive climate, individualised HR practices, leadership practices and highest levels of job fit. It seems they proactively tailor their job to fit their strengths and interests.

Age diverse initiatives

Some of the age-diverse initiatives companies can review are: 
  • job redesign; stimulating work, role clarity, autonomy and balanced workload
  • career pathways
  • age diversity throughout the levels of the organisation
  • flexible work practices and education to find a positive solution 
  • less manual intensive jobs for mature ages
  • leave types, for example, grandparents leave
  • mentoring support 
  • training and development
  • knowledge sharing practices 
  • learning from the 65 and over female population
  • retirement planning.
Many companies support the use of flexible work practices and more people having caring responsibilities either for their own children, elderly parents or grandchildren. Interestingly, the report notes that one third of applicants had a flexible application knocked back, primarily the 35-44 age group. 

Young participants have different challenges, with more than one quarter aged between 18-44 finding it hard to fulfil their caring responsibilities due to time spent on their role. The most common strategies to take an hour or so off work were to follow formal procedures and negotiate directly with a manager versus age-diverse policies or practices.

There is a myth that older workers are less adaptable than younger people. However, the study showed adaptability increases with age and mature workers want to keep learning. Men and women 65 and older want to keep working to stay active and productive versus, whereas those under 45 are more motivated by financial reasons.

CEPAR chief investigator Professor Sharon Parker said: “retraining mature workers will be important to enable them to adapt to the changing work demands of an increasingly digital environment. Also important is ensuring that mature workers' jobs are redesigned to accommodate changes in their needs and preferences, such as reducing the physical demands in manual jobs, or providing more opportunities for mentoring.”
Finally, more than one third of all workers had engaged in some form of retirement planning although only 32% aged 45-54 and 39% aged 55-64 had done so.  With the ageing workforce wanting to work for longer and keep learning, there is an opportunity to meet mature workers' needs as well as provide phased and transition to retirement options.  
Companies that can think and act differently about their age-diverse workforce and design inclusive, individualised and integrative policies and practices will get the best out of each age group.  Not only will it impact employee wellbeing and engagement, it will improve company culture, increase productivity, lead to better workforce planning, recruitment and retention, and in turn give the Australian economy a boost. 

Maximising Potential: Findings from the Mature Workers in Organisations Survey, ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) Industry Report, December 2019

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