What older workers want

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wants people in their mid and late 60s to work longer and undertake training to keep them in touch with the jobs market. He signalled that intention in an address to the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) last month, describing the scenario of an ageing population heaping new demands on the health, aged care and pension systems as an “economic time bomb”.

But are workplaces ready for older workers?

Now a new report has found mature workers across Australia feel excluded, have limited development opportunities and battle inflexible work arrangements compared with younger workers.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC), is tasked with finding solutions to issues resulting from population ageing in Australia. Researchers based at the University of Sydney and Curtin University conducted a national benchmarking survey of mature workers to understand how organisations can better manage and harness the benefits of an ageing workforce.

The report, Maximising Potential: Findings from the Mature Workers in Organisations Survey (MWOS), found that many mature workers do not feel included in the workplace.


Key concerns were: age-biased opportunities for skill development, limited availability of flexible work that fully caters for workers’ individual needs and preferences, and poor knowledge transfer among co-workers of different ages.

The researchers asked more than 2000 employees from more than 1500 Australian organisations about inclusive work environments; individual strategies to adapt to physical, emotional and cognitive changes over the life span, and supportive workplace practices, such as age diversity and flexible work arrangements.

Flexible work arrangements were a key concern for mature employees.

Marian Baird, co-author, CEPAR chief investigator and professor of gender and employment relations at the University of Sydney business school, said: “Significant caring responsibilities, such as the need to care for elderly parents or grandparenting responsibilities, have been identified as a key driver for mature employees to consider early retirement.

“Supporting employees who are balancing care responsibilities is an important issue for organisational growth with an ageing workforce. As our working population ages and organisations strive to retain mature workers, greater flexibility in working arrangements will become increasingly important to support mature workers.”

CEPAR chief investigator Professor Sharon Parker, from Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute, said the new research aimed to identify and develop successful work policies and practices that supported the attraction, retention and engagement of mature workers.

“Creating an environment in which all employees feel valued and respected regardless of their age will become increasingly important,” she said. “This will in turn benefit not only organisations as a whole, but also teams and individual employees.”

According to the report, failure to create an inclusive work environment was likely to result in mature workers leaving their organisation early and being less engaged in their work. When employers provided motivating opportunities, such as fair access to promotions and training, both mature workers and their younger counterparts benefited.

The research challenges some common age stereotypes, with more than 90 per cent of mature employees surveyed reporting they actively tried to develop their capabilities.

The survey responses indicate a discrepancy between the support employees feel their organisation has for flexible work and actual reports of access to flexible arrangements.

Prof. Baird said elder care and grandparenting leave options were inclusion strategies that organisations should utilise to enable mature workers to participate in the workforce longer.

Key findings were:

  • 65 per cent of workers aged 55–64 reported that “alternate career paths with a specific focus on employees of different ages” are not available in the organisations they work for (compared to 42 per cent of younger workers).
  • Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of workers aged 55–64 reported that their employer did not “offer phased retirement programs” (compared to 41 per cent of younger workers).
  • 60 per cent of employees aged 55–64 reported that there were “little to no opportunities to have their jobs redesigned or to transfer to a less strenuous job” (compared to 40 per cent of younger workers).
  • Just over one third (34 per cent) of workers aged 55–64 reported their organisation did not provide “opportunities for employees of all ages to take on challenging and meaningful new roles or work assignments”. This compared with only 12 per cent of men aged 45–55.

In other findings, 77 per cent of workers aged 65-plus said the top reason they continued to work was to stay active and productive, and 71 per cent said they worked because they enjoyed it or because it gives them a sense of purpose.

The treasury says that a five percentage point increase in employment participation rates among 50 to 69-year-olds could produce 2.4 per cent more GDP by 2050.

Are you hopeful that baby boomers will have a significant effect on how workplaces are organised and so help you to work comfortably for longer?

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Written by Janelle Ward


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