Australia has an ageism bias – and it's costing you top-tier talent
Quality of life is improving for everyone around the world and people are, therefore, putting off retiring for longer to explore further work options and even career changes. Life expectancy has also increased, with the average Australian expected to live to 82.90 years, slightly ahead of the UK (81.20 years) and the United States (78.79 years), according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Broken down further, a boy born in Australia between 2017-2019 can expect to live to 80.9 years and a girl born in the same period can expect to live to 85.0 years. This is a vast increase from the 1960-1962 period where boys born in those years were expected to live to 67.9 years and girls 74.2 years.
But despite this improvement in life expectancy and quality of life, there’s still some hesitancy in employing people in the over-50 category despite the wealth of experience, knowledge and life intelligence they have to offer.
“People in the later stages of their career are more likely to understand the type of work they want to do and the role that will get the best from them,” Karen Gately, human resource specialist and founder of Corporate Dojo, said. “Assuming the mature age worker has the motivation to do the job, the depth of life and job related experience they bring can be invaluable. Equally people later in their careers are less likely to change jobs frequently and can bring a great deal of stability to a team.
“Furthermore, mature age workers are just as capable of adding value at all levels of an organisations hierarchy. All too often age based biases lead to inaccurate assumptions about someone’s ability to learn, strive and ultimately deliver. If we are to overcome the challenges inherent in an aging workforce, employers are wise to move past these limiting and unfair mindsets.”
The reality is that children born today will undergo approximately five career changes and according to CSIRO research may live up to 150 years of age with the rapid advancement of medical technology.
That being the case, it is time the current employers started embracing elder workers into the workplace and offering them positions and salaries in alignment with their experience.
Most professional mature workers will understand the culture you have created, or want to generate, and can help you mould it.
“Focus on core values that people bring, irrespective of the age group they belong to,” Gately said. “What matters is that people are able to behave in ways that allow strong relationships to be built and collaboration to be achieved. Trust, respect, accountability and achievement are some of the most important things someone needs to value in order to be a positive contributor to a successful team or business.”
And of course, there are other values that they will impart too.
“While every individual is unique with age can often come experience in dealing with a wide variety of circumstances,” Gately added. “These experiences can add enormous value when it comes to problem solving or facing challenges in the job. While not always the case, someone who has learned from their experiences and grown on a personal level will typically be a more emotionally intelligent version of themselves compared to in their youth.”
In today’s workforce, soft skills have never been in higher demand. Bringing in a mature worker with an array of skillsets including raising children, living overseas and experienced the highs and lows of life, can help settle delicate situations and be an independent voice of reason.
“Regardless of age, there is considerable untapped talent and skills, upwards of 16% of the total labour force sitting with our mature workers,” Roxanne Calder, founder and managing director of EST10, said.
“Mature workers have a wealth of experience and knowledge, reported as being more loyal and reliable, and in some cases, an increased rate of older employment is associated with a higher youth employment rate.
“They also possess more patience, and their communication style is adaptable to different audiences. Mediation and mentoring skills are also developed from their vast experience dealing with diverse and numerous people.”
Calder believes that differing communications styles can benefit any company.
“Know the difference in generational values, priorities, and habits to understand how they best mix and blend to create harmonious collaboration,” Calder said. “Respect, understanding the value of differences in communication style and fostering learning from one another are the key elements to ensure a good cultural fit of multigenerational teams.”
Engaging a mature employee in your office might just prove the masterstroke needed to create office harmony, increased productivity and a seamless culture of integration and acceptance.