Australia has always been known as the ‘lucky country’ and it would be a brave person who disagrees with this! We are seen in advertising campaigns overseas as a youthful, adventurous country, all beaches, surfing and long drives.
Traditionally we have had a very youthful demographic but as the recent Intergenerational Report shows, this is changing and will have quite serious impacts on our workforce and productivity generally. Australia has decreasing birthrates and increasing life expectancies – and we are not just living longer but are likely to be more active for longer. The downside of this is that there will be fewer people in the most common working age bracket (15-65) to support the young and more importantly the elderly, after retirement. The recent government suggestion to increase the retirement age to 70 is one measure to take some of the pressure off in future years but this has also caused some alarm, particularly in industries which are very physical in nature.
There are two important factors in this for employers. One is the employment of older workers (both recruitment and retention), and the other is the impact on workers with elderly parents who need to care for them.
Discrimination on the basis of age is not lawful. This can apply to a candidate of any age. Make sure that your recruitment policies and practices are such that the right person for the job is recruited regardless of age. There is one very common bias in relation to older employees and that is in relation to learning. As Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination recently said in an interview with Human Resources Media, for AHRI, “many employers believe a person over 50 isn’t able to learn new things…I can quote you endless medical research about the brain, and psychological research about people’s adaptability, to show that belief is wrong”.
If the retirement age is to be lifted to 70 years of age, then employers need to assess what changes may need to be made to the workplace to ensure that those people can continue to contribute to the business – does the job need redesigning, do they need more training, or can their skills be used in a different way?
Flexibility is important for an ageing workforce – productivity is not necessarily lost if older workers approaching retirement are provided with shorter working weeks or days, in order to transition into retirement. Employers who already have good flexible work arrangements in place for parents returning to work from parental leave should have no issue with providing the same flexibility to older workers approaching retirement.
Similarly, because we will be living longer, with severe stresses being placed on health care and in particular aged care, and stress on families, it must inevitably lead to the need for more flexibility for your younger to middle aged workers with the responsibility of caring for elderly relatives. There will not be the aged care facilities available for the numbers who will need it, and there is already pressure to keep the elderly in their own homes as long as possible to take pressure off the aged care system, which in turn puts pressure on families.
Review your policies and practices now to ensure your business is ready to face the many challenges of an ageing workforce.