HomeLifeAgeism keeping older Australians out of the workforce

Ageism keeping older Australians out of the workforce

We’ve heard a lot in the media recently about changing the rules to allow people who receive an Age Pension to work if they want to.

Changing structural barriers, like pension rules, is welcome. If we don’t shift attitudinal barriers, however, we won’t realise the benefits of older workers in the workforce.

Right now, ageism is rife – and highly tolerated. Report after report tells us that older people are being discriminated against and that ageism is the number one barrier older people face when they seek work.

As things stand, ageism is devastating lives, costing the economy and wasting an incalculable amount of human potential. So how are we seeing it manifest? Well, ageism in employment tends to kick in at:

  • Recruitment: Applications from older people are often simply culled on the basis of their date of birth. Assumptions are made about older applicants – that they will be no good with technology, that they’re just looking for a path to retirement, that they’re stuck in their ways, that they won’t want to report to a younger boss.
  • Retention: Older people are overlooked for learning and development opportunities and promotions. In many workplace cultures, people feel they have to hide their age for fear of being overlooked or treated as irrelevant or ‘out of touch’.
  • Exit: Organisational redundancies often target older workers because they are viewed as not the right ‘fit’ anymore.

There have been many attempts to deal with the structural barriers that older workers face over the years, such as wage subsidy programs, and career transition and training programs. If we don’t shift the negative stereotypes about older workers, however, we have to accept these programs just won’t hit their goals.

Read: Why are people so willing to accept ageism?

If we’re genuine about getting older people into work, we must focus on shifting attitudes and dismantling ageist assumptions and stereotypes.

It’s the crucial missing piece to creating more inclusive and productive workplaces.

We are living longer, healthier lives. For many, that means longer working lives. We know there are many older people who want to work. Our expectations about retirement and this phase of our lives are changing.

Yet even at a time when our economy is facing acute labour market shortages, we still don’t seem able to get past our ageist stereotypes and narrow expectations of older people in work.

Read: Just another challenge you face when you hit 60

As always with attitude shifts, there is no silver bullet. But a great place to start would be a generously funded commonwealth government education and awareness campaign aimed at bluntly challenging the myths, stereotypes and negative attitudes about older people in the workforce – and in general.

The time is now to increase awareness of ageism and the options for recourse.

The time is now to lift awareness of the benefits of employing older people and creating diverse, intergenerational workforces.

* Marlene Krasovitsky is director and co-chair of EveryAGE Counts.

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