Almost one in two baby boomers believes age is the reason employers have been rejecting their job applications, according to a new report by professional networking site LinkedIn.
These findings add to recent reports revealing negative attitudes towards baby boomer workers, such as believing them to be slow and incapable of adapting to new technologies.
Indeed Hiring Lab Australia economist Callam Pickering says such stigmatisation and discrimination against older workers is bad for business and bad news for the entire workforce.
“Putting a monetary value on it is difficult … but speaking more broadly, research consistently shows that there’s huge value in employing people from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences,” Mr Pickering told The New Daily.
“We know that diverse teams tend to be better at problem-solving and they tend to be more profitable as well.”
According to LinkedIn, boomers believe that lack of financial resources, ageism and a difficult job market are the main barriers preventing them from finding jobs.
YourLifeChoices research reveals that ageism is most prevalent in the workplace with 23 per cent of members polled saying they first experienced ageism in the workplace in their 50s and 21 per cent in their 60s.
Just over one in four (27 per cent) older Australians had experienced workplace discrimination – often during the hiring process, according to a 2015 report from the Australian Human Rights Commission. Because of this, a third of the group opted for early retirement.
While ageism is often used as a term for discrimination against older people, it’s not a ‘one-way’ attitude, says the report.
“Age also manifests itself as a barrier in a different way for younger workers (Gen Z), such as a lack of work experience (25 per cent) and confidence (21 per cent), as well as the lack of direction and guidance (13 per cent),” says LinkedIn.
Mr Pickering says that most employers assume that older people are incapable of learning new technologies and that strong growth in tech-heavy service jobs might be exacerbating the issue.
“Another important factor is simply that they might be less willing to invest in an older worker because they assume that worker is going to retire sooner rather than later,” he says.
“And so if they have a choice between a 30-year-old employee who might stick around for 15 or 20 years, versus a 55-year old who might hang around for five years, they might prefer that younger worker.”
While many feel pessimistic about the state of their economy, there are signs that this perception is changing, underscored by 45 per cent of respondents who feel confident about finding better opportunities this year.
“This research gives us a sense of how confident people are that there is an opportunity out there for them. It’s comforting to see that despite the backdrop of worry about all that is going on in the world, people are still encouraged about their opportunities to get ahead,” said LinkedIn chief economist Karin Kimbrough.
“But we also know that the way we live and work is changing rapidly, and that people across the globe will have to adapt and adjust to take advantage of the opportunities the new economy will bring. It’s on each of us to create the environment that helps people reach their ambitions – to help people take risks or invest in themselves so they earn skills and experience and build networks that help them get the jobs they want.”
However, this is where independent economist Dr Jim Stanford, who heads The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work, sees a problem.
The unemployment rate sits at just 5.1 per cent, says Dr Stanford, but a further 8.3 per cent are working fewer hours than they would like to be.
“The problem we have is a shortage of jobs, not a shortage of people to do the jobs,” said Dr Stanford.
Instead of telling older workers that they should stay in the labour market and work until they’re 70, we should be encouraging them to retire by giving them secure and decent pensions, he says.
“And when they do that, they’ll be helping to make room for young people who have got skills and energy but can’t find work.”
Robert Tickner, co-chair of advocacy campaign EveryAge Counts, agrees, saying that some workers would prefer to retire early, but working into later life should ultimately be a matter of choice – one that’s taken away by age discrimination.
Mr Tickner sees a need for more age discrimination awareness and a minister of longevity appointed to address discrimination and help older Australians continue working.
“We want our political leaders to be sending the right messages. But we also need to get our employers to hear the message: that you wouldn’t discriminate on the basis of race, so you shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of age,” said Mr Tickner.
“It’s bad economics. It’s bad risk management. And it’s illegal.”
Increased longevity means people will continue to work well beyond their retirement years “making multigenerational workforces a reality among businesses with up to four generations of employees working together for the very first time”, says LinkedIn.
“Embracing a multigenerational workforce will be key to navigating an evolving job market and harness it as a growth driver of today’s economy.”
Where do you most experience age discrimination? Were you ever denied a job or an interview because of your age? Did you retire early because you couldn’t find a job in your later years? Would you still be working if you could?
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