Ageism in the workforce is bad and getting worse

Being over 50 and overweight will “definitely make finding a job that much harder”, according to Nine HR expert Dr Kristin Ferguson.

“Research tells us it takes almost twice as long (67 weeks on average) for someone who is over 55 to get a job than if they were younger,” she says.

It’s worse if you’re overweight. And one in five Australians aged over 55 is obese. That’s over one million Australians, many of whom need to work well into their 60s.

“One study on discrimination in the workplace found that the more overweight a person is, the more likely it is that they will be discriminated against. Overweight workers are 12 times more likely to experience employment discrimination, obese workers 37 times [more likely] and severely obese workers are 100 times more likely than other workers to experience workplace discrimination,” says Dr Ferguson.

Read more: Older workers lose out to JobMaker

The findings underscore concerns about cuts to services for the unemployed ‘hidden’ in the Federal Budget.

“The efficiency drive will shift 1.2 million job seekers to an online service in a bid to replace face-to-face advice from employment service providers paid by the government to help the unemployed,” reports Nine.

The savings were among sweeping changes to the JobActive system.

Community and employer groups are concerned the plan flouts a 2018 report that said savings should be invested in better services for the long-term unemployed.

“Now is the time to focus on investments in people who are unemployed or underemployed, rather than looking at it from a savings perspective,” Sally Sinclair, chief executive of the National Employment Services Association, told Nine.

“One of the really important things in the reforms to employment services is for people to be able to access that personalised support if they are not getting what they need from the digital service.”

Read more: Pandemic destroying plans of older workers

Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) principal adviser Peter Davidson warned against withdrawing support from more than 1 million people seeking work.

“They need much more help than they get now from employment services, which are about policing unrealistic and punitive job search requirements, not improving work experience and skills,” he said.

“With one case worker for every 150 unemployed people, the system is not up to the job of reducing prolonged unemployment.”

Age discrimination commissioner Dr Kay Patterson confirms age discrimination is a “significant problem” in Australian workplaces and widespread. Citing a survey from the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), she says it’s concerning that the perception of what constitutes an ‘older’ worker has shifted to a younger age.

“We saw a marked increase in those selecting 51-55 (from 10.8 per cent in 2018 to 16.9 per cent in the current survey).”

Read more: One Nation throws older workers under the bus

The AHRC’s Willing to Work inquiry confirmed that one in four (27 per cent) people over the age of 50 had recently experienced age discrimination at work.

Dr Patterson says pre-COVID data shows that once older workers become unemployed, they find it harder to get employment compared with younger age groups.

“On average, younger people (aged 15-44) are unemployed for 45 weeks, compared with 76 weeks for people aged 55-plus.”

In 2001, women over 50 made up 4.9 per cent of all Jobseeker recipients. In 2019, they made up 20 per cent of Jobseeker recipients. Older people are exiting unemployment benefits to the Age Pension, rather than a job.

Dr Patterson says older women working in customer-facing industries such as retail or tourism are being passed over for younger candidates.

Have you experienced more workplace challenges after the age of 50? Have you experienced ageism in the workplace?

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Written by Will Brodie

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