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Mature workers are struggling to find work in Australia

Older Australian workers are feeling excluded from the workforce, and have limited development opportunities and flexible working arrangements compared to younger workers, says a new report from the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR).

The survey included over 2,000 mature employees from more than 1,500 Australian organisations, asking about inclusive work environments, support workplace practices and more. [Source: Shutterstock]

A national benchmarking survey was conducted by researchers from Curtin University and the University of Sydney to find out how organisations could better utilise the benefits of an ageing workforce.

Many of the mature survey participants felt they were not included in the workplace for skill development, had limited access to flexible work options to cater for workers’ individual needs and preferences, and poor transferral of knowledge among co-workers of different ages.

Chief Investigator of CEPAR from the Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute, Professor Sharon Parker, says the research wants to identify and develop work policies and practices that support attraction, retention and engagement of mature workers.

“With age diversity projected to continue to increase in Australian organisations, creating an environment in which all employees feel valued and respected regardless of their age will become increasingly important. This will in turn benefit not only organisations as a whole, but also teams and individual employees,” says Professor Parker.

“Retraining mature workers will be important to enable them to adapt to the changing work demands of an increasingly digital environment. 

“Also important is ensuring that mature workers’ jobs are redesigned to accommodate changes in their needs and preferences, such as reducing physical demands in manual jobs, or providing more opportunities for mentoring.”

The survey included over 2,000 mature employees from more than 1,500 Australian organisations, asking about inclusive work environments, support workplace practices and more.

A majority of workers between 55 to 64 years of age, and working men older than 65, perceived their organisations’ policies as less age inclusive than younger workers. 

The report believes if there is a failure in creating an inclusive work environment more mature workers will leave their organisation earlier than they intended. They will also be less likely to engage in their work.

Benefits were found if employers provided motivating opportunities to both mature and young workers, such as fair access to promotions and training.

Professor Parker added that adaptation needs to be put on work design, human resources (HR) and work practices to provide fair training and development opportunities.

The research did have some positive findings with more than 90 percent of mature employees aged over 65 reporting that they want to develop their capabilities and actively try to develop their skills.

Professor Parker believes these findings challenge the misconception that older workers are less adaptive than younger employees.

“Employees of all ages surveyed said they had reasonable ability to cope with changes to their work tasks. Interestingly, the results indicate that lower levels of adaptivity tended to be reported more by younger workers,” says Professor Parker.

“These results go against the typical ageing stereotypes and indicate that older workers don’t struggle more than young workers to adapt to changes and learn new ways of completing their core work tasks.”

Co-author of the research, CEPAR Chief Investigator and Professor of Gender and Employment Relations at the University of Sydney Business School, Marian Baird, says the researchers also asked employees about their access to flexible working arrangements.

“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,” says Professor Baird.

“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.”

Professor Baird adds that elder care and grandparenting leave options are inclusion strategies that organisations should utilise to enable mature workers to participate in the workforce longer.

“As the mature workforce continues to grow, these options are likely to become a higher priority for mature job seekers and therefore provide a competitive advantage for organisations aiming to attract high performing employees,” Professor Baird said.

Professor Parker believes the report offers hope with women beyond the age of 65 who remain working have had largely positive experiences and higher reports of inclusive, individualised and integrative work practices.

“The actions taken by the organisations employing these women have created positive and age-supportive organisational and managerial contexts. These findings show that it is indeed possible to create positive work and workplaces for mature workers, and we hope to see such situations emerge more widely,” says Professor Parker.


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