‘Product invisibility’: Aged workers facing barriers

by Cameron Edmond24 Jun 2013

Aging Australians are more likely to be turned down for positions when applying for work, a report from the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has found.

One-in-ten  businesses surveyed by AHRC admitted to having an age limit on who they would recruit. In addition, 67% of Australians between the ages of 54-65 were turned down because of their age, with 50% over the age 65 experiencing the same.

AHRC referred to aging Australians as suffering from “product invisibility” due to being overlooked by the corporate world, regardless of what they are able to offer to an organisation.

AHRC attributed this age discrimination as stemming from pre-conceived notions about how mature-age workers think and behave. The report found that 37% of decision makers believed mature-age people didn’t like change. Thirty-three per -cent stated they think older people are more likely to be forgetful.

Other stereotypes some decision makers were found to agree with included: not liking being told what to do by younger people; difficulty learning new concepts or completing complex tasks; not liking working long hours; and preferring to avoid technology.

These factors, as well as more general concepts that don’t relate directly to work (more likely to feel isolated; more likely to be ill; more likely to be victims of crime) were found to influence the actions of many business decision makers, with AHRC finding almost half have negative concepts about aging Australians in the workplace.

Despite discrimination on grounds of age being outlawed, the overwhelmingly negative culture prevents protection for aging Australians. “It just doesn’t seem to have that sting to it. If you look at other things like religion and sexual preference … it’s so careful and there are stringent HR policies and other things,” one respondent said.

“It is vital we recognise that the growth in the number of older Australians provides significant and very real economic and social benefits and opportunities,” Susan Ryan AO, aged discrimination commissioner at AHRC, said. “It is my hope that it will encourage constructive collaboration between media, advertisers and corporate Australia to present older Australians in a more accurate, balanced and diverse manner that reflect more realistically their value, capability and experience.”


  • by Sarah 24/06/2013 2:34:45 PM

    I had to laugh when I read this; did the AHRC only just discover this? I've known this for the last 20 years, and nothing has changed.

    The stereotypes they label older workers with are so ridiculous, and employers who think in this way are very close-minded.

    I am 50 years old, and I freelance in HR because it's next to impossible to get an interview with a recruiter, let alone an employer. The interesting thing is not only do I have a huge amount of experience in my field, in addition to being up to date with legislative requirements and compliance issues, but I am very good with technology, I can even build my own websites and set up systems which would be of value to an employer, I know social media and about SEO, etc, and yet my chances of getting a foot in the door for a HR role are slim.

    What is really laughable is one of the comments about older workers not wanting to work longer hours and/or getting ill more often. How little those employers know! What about Gen Y'ers who show very little commitment to an employer, who have short staying power, and who go on parental leave and then want to come back to work 3 days a week, working for home, I might add!

    The Australian labour market is due for a huge shakedown, but until those employers and recruiters experience getting older themselves we'll all probably be dead. Meanwhile, we'll go on reading about how the AHRC found all this out from a survey and hope we don't lose our present jobs until we are ready to retire.

    I'm still wondering how the government expects older workers to survive between, say 50 and 65 or 67 (when they are able to access a government pension as their super won't be enough to sustain them).

  • by Susan Rochester 24/06/2013 3:48:51 PM

    How do you think using terms such as 'aged' and 'older', or even 'aging' (we are all aging) in articles like this contributes to reducing discrimination?

  • by Clara Pound 24/06/2013 3:50:14 PM

    Sarah, hi, I agree with many of your comments. This type of discrimination is nothing new! When people first told me they thought they were being discriminated against because of their age (then 45)... I scoffed thinking it wasn't true. Now I can see and have experienced that it does happen.
    Funny that there seems to be a perception of 'more flexibility' in today's workforce. Young parents X or Y generation, want to be there for their families; be it dinner time or when they are sick. (and rightly so too).
    We baby boomers did it tough and gave priority to work commitments and I think we paid a price for it. Today's younger generation can see the 'error' in our ways and want to do it differently. They happily give priority to their partners, families and relationships.
    I strongly encourage any employer to consider the more mature worker for a myriad of positive reasons. Unless of course you are looking for someone to leap tall buildings in a single bound!
    BTW - I think the government thinks we can all survive on this air - just look at the pension and unemployment benefits. :-) Though I do see some people who can manage on that amount by doing some fancy footing.....(that all comes from tough experience of course)

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