Ageism: why everyone should be worried


Ageism: why everyone should be worried

Why should younger people worry about the raw deal older employees sometimes receive? Mike Toten explains.


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Why should younger managers and younger employees worry about the raw deal older employees sometimes receive?

Firstly, if an organisation's culture is not supportive, they too will eventually become victims of it.

Secondly, an ageing population means the ratio of working people to the retired population is steadily shrinking, and may become unsustainable if ways to keep older people in the workforce are not pursued. That ratio is currently 4.7 to 1, but is projected to fall to 2.7 to 1 in 40 years’ time.

A presentation at the  recent 2017 AHRI Inclusion and Diversity Conference discussed the types of bias that can occur against older employees and provided suggestions to improve retention rates.

The presenter was Dr Kay Patterson, the Commonwealth Age Discrimination Commissioner.

Types of discrimination

More than 60 per cent of age discrimination complaints made to the Age Discrimination Commissioner concerned employment.

The main grievances of mature age employees and job applicants are:
  • Change of attitude by interviewers when a mature age job applicant appears in person
  • Age stereotyping that is embedded in recruitment practices and language used at the workplace. Common stereotypes include “overqualified”, “not vibrant”, “don’t fit our culture”, “slow”, “not tech-savvy”, “looking for a back door into leadership”, etc.
  • Lack of access to retraining and career planning
  • Employees are scared to mention retirement to their managers, because they fear they will become “cut-off” from opportunities and the employer will not bother with career planning for the rest of their working life.
  • More likely to be targeted for redundancy, particularly when a change of senior management occurs.
Patterson said these problems have a ripple impact on following generations, who perceive that loyalty is not rewarded but often punished. They then see little point in being loyal either, and may be more encouraged to leave.

Some initiatives that may help

Patterson recommended several actions that could assist both mature age employees and their employers. Some of them were from a report, Willing to Work, published by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2016.
  • provision of more mentoring roles, particularly in smaller businesses
  • provision of more “counsellor” types of roles
  • age diversity training programs – Patterson called this “a good PhD course topic”
  • acceptance that every employee needs some time off work at some stage, for a variety of reasons, eg career break, education, family/carer responsibilities, health
  • wider provision of retraining, especially at mid-life/mid-career stages
  • regular conversations with employees about their future work intentions, but without applying pressure to make any particular decision, eg pressure to stay full-time, or to retire
  • provision of information on growth industries, work opportunities and training courses – this could become a fee-for-service option for employers
  • a “champions of change” program for mature age employees, similar to programs that currently assist other groups such as women and LGBTI employees
  • government action to update various payment and entitlement programs that have fallen out of step with the increasing retirement age
Further information about the conference is available from AHRI
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