Staff as young as 45 facing age discrimination: Study

Older workers are feeling subtle pressure from their colleagues and management to make way for younger generations

Staff as young as 45 facing age discrimination: Study

More than 30% of Australians have experienced age discrimination while employed or seeking work in the past 12 months, claims new research by the University of South Australia.

The most common form of discrimination involved negative views about the skills and learning abilities of older workers, according to the national survey of 2100 men and women aged 45 years and over, and 100 telephone interviews.

The consequences are that older workers are struggling with limited employment, training and promotion opportunities, said study author Justine Irving.

“Older adults in our study described a subtle pressure from their colleagues and management to stop working in order to make room for the younger generation. This was regardless of their experience, enduring capabilities or working preferences,” said Irving.

“Workers also found patronising attitudes, where employers or colleagues assumed they would struggle to pick up new technology or work systems quickly due to their age.”

Irving argued that mature-aged workers bring with them a plethora of positive characteristics such as stability, reliability, loyalty, experience, wisdom and maturity.

One way to tackle work-related ageism is to firstly address negative perceptions regarding the competency of older workers, she said.

Irving added that age-related discrimination was seen to a worrying degree in all areas of the workforce.

“Industries where age discrimination was particularly common included construction, administrative services, education, manufacturing, essential services, information technology and professional service industries,” she said.

Moreover, two-thirds of respondents said they had left the workforce involuntarily, through redundancy and dismissal or feeling they had no choice but to retire.

"Negative experiences at work, with a colleague, management or client, or dissatisfaction with organisational changes were often the trigger events for retirement," Irving said.

Moreover, the findings are backed up by previous research from the Australian Human Rights Commission where 27% of Australians aged 50 years and over had recent experience of age-based discrimination in the workplace.

Despite discrimination being prevalent among older workers, HC recently reported that employees aged 70 and over are three times more likely to be happy at work compared to their younger counterparts, according to a study by Curtin University in WA.

Report author Rebecca Cassells said employees who worked beyond the age of 70 were likely to do so because they love what they do, rather than out of necessity.

Generation X and Generation Y were found to be the least happy, at 28% and 24% respectively, and women are slightly more content than men at work, at 31% compared to 27%.

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