More than 60 per cent of older Aussies experience work discrimination

Undervalued and discriminated against but many Australian seniors want to keep working

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Ageist Australian companies risk missing out on a wealth of untapped talent. Photo: Shutterstock

Ageist Australian companies risk missing out on a wealth of untapped talent. Photo: Shutterstock

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Undervalued, underutilized, under-recognised and underpaid is how many older Australians feel in today's working environments which value youth over experience and maturity.

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Undervalued, underutilised, under-recognised and underpaid is how many older Australians feel in today's working environments which value youth over experience and maturity.

Endemic workplace ageism remains the toughest challenge for older workers who feel they miss out on promotions and opportunities and find it harder to have their voice heard in planning and decision making.

New findings from The Australian Seniors Series: Ageing in the Workforce 2021 show more than 60 per cent of older workers have experienced discrimination at work.

Furthermore, almost 90 per cent of over 50s believe ageism is prevalent in the workplace, with more than one third of these believing it is extremely prevalent. More than one quarter of seniors believe employers start to look differently at employees between the ages of 40 - 49 and a further half say this occurs between the ages of 50 - 59. Woman bear the greater brunt of ageism according to the reseach.

For older jobseekers the situation is extremely difficult and getting worse - more than two thirds of older jobseekers know or believe they were turned down for a job based solely on their age - a 20 per cent increase on the results of similar research in 2016.

For those planning to re-enter the workforce, almost four-fifths (78.2 per cent) lack confidence with their prospects and even more (84.5 per cent) see barriers to achieving their goals. Additionally, over half said the pandemic had made the task of finding a job much harder, with close to one in 10 ending their job search and more than a quarter attempting to give the impression they are younger either at work or during the job application process.

Disappointed and depressed

Over half of those seniors surveyed felt disappointed with their working life and almost one third felt depressed.

The negative bias is not restricted to the workplace, however, with many of those surveyed believing ageism is prevalent in Australian society at large, demonstrated by the treatment of the very elderly, treatment of older people by the public and by media and advertising stereotypes.

Ageing in the Workforce 2021 builds on a previous study from 2016 (Seniors in the Workplace) and forms part of the Australian Seniors Research Series.

In its latest instalment, this in-depth study explores the current experiences of seniors in the Australian workforce, the impact of 2020 and COVID-19, how older people are taking control of their careers and how they feel about retirement.

The research was conducted via an online survey of 5,030 Australians aged 50 and above representating the general senior population of Australians in terms of age, gender, wealth, and state/territory.

Despite the challenging events of the past 18 months and common experiences of ageism, it's very apparently that older Australians overall are extremely resilient and determined.

Almost three-quarters of over 50s are currently undertaking or planning efforts to take more control of their careers now and into the future such as reskilling or training, driving work-life balance, embracing technology, self-driven learning, and/or adapting/changing working roles or careers. Almost three-fifths (58.7 per cent) have plans to reskill or seek further career and job training and more than one in two of this subset are doing so in a new area or field to current or previous roles.

More than 85 per cent of Australia's over 50s think staying in the workforce longer is a positive; and almost one in five (18.6 per cent) are reconsidering their retirement plans as a result of COVID-19.

Surprisingly almost nine in 10 (88.9 per cent) semi and full retirees are considering re-entering the workforce from retirement, with almost one in 10 (8.7 per cent) revealing they would work full time again and more than three-quarters (75.7 per cent) saying they would work indefinitely if they were well supported and had flexible working conditions.

Although finances remain the main reason for staying in the workforce after 67 (64.9 per cent), over half (52.1 per cent) experience enjoyment from working and 46.2 per cent want to maintain a sense of purpose.

Untapped talent pool

According to recruitment specialists COVID-19 has provided employers with a strong opportunity to hire the over 50s.

Sydney-based organisational psychologist, Humphrey Armstrong whose work at Lifelong Learning Systems focuses on helping people make the most out of their later-life career and retirement transitions, believes companies have many advantages dipping into the over 50 talent pool.

"Interestingly, with skilled migration being pretty much shut down over the last 18 months, many organisations are now reporting difficulties in recruiting loyal, reliable staff. This is being reflected in the much faster than expected decline in unemployment over the last few months.

"The increasing need to find talented, experienced staff presents a great opportunity for organisations to consider retaining and hiring older people. As the survey results indicate, many seniors are wishing to work longer and the statistic of 89 per cent of current retirees considering re-entering the workforce suggests older Australians are an important, relatively untapped talent pool.

"The shift to flexible and remote working arrangements, which are especially attractive for many older women who are keen to secure flexible part-time jobs, means new employment opportunities are now emerging, due in part to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

Amanda Mackean, Founder and Director of Seeking Seniors, a job and recruitment agency for Australia's over 45s agrees: "Our economy is not going to get out of this ravaged state unless we alter our standards and employ Australia's over 50s," she said .

"A misconception is that older Australians are looking for those senior and "career-defining" roles, but the truth is they want a different pace. Thus, companies have an opportunity to bring in their expertise in a variety of mid-level vacancies. Having come up against age discrimination first-hand during my career, I'm hopeful that a wider understanding of the positive contributions over 50s bring to the workforce, will help thousands of seniors facing ageism."

"I'm hopeful that a wider understanding of the positive contributions over 50s bring to the workforce, will help thousands of seniors facing ageism."

Government support for the growing ageing workforce?

According to the research, there is a growing need for the Australian Government to get more involved in assisting the ageing workforce, especially with the Baby Boomer generation making up more than 20 per cent of the country's population.

Almost two-thirds of respondents agree the government does not do enough to encourage businesses to employ this demographic. For example, continuously changing the goal posts on an 'acceptable' retirement age (90.6 per cent) and providing an unfair amount of support for hiring younger rather than older Australians (81.0 per cent).

The majority (94.0 per cent) say the government needs to provide more tangible support for seniors working later in life such as, training/reskilling programs, supportive working conditions and policies; and want mandatory equality for over 50s in human resources and diversity & inclusion strategies.

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