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Putting Age friendly Principles into Practice – 6 Civic Engagement and Employment II


b.  Employment of Older Workers 

Many people over 65 would like to work beyond retirement age for various reasons, not the least because as people live longer, many pensions are no longer adequate especially if living costs continue to rise. Even when not a matter of necessity, paid employment increases satisfaction and self -esteem, prevents loneliness, slows mental and physical decline and gives people a sense of purpose and the opportunity to stay connected and contribute to their communities. 

Economists like it too. Since the turn of the century, organisations such as the World Economic Forum, the OECD and the UN have been warning governments that the decline in birth rates and the rise in longevity will put great pressure on national budgets, not only in terms of welfare, but also with respect health and other services. At the time, many countries such as Australia were struggling with a youth unemployment problem and a middle – aged unemployment problem due to retrenchment of workers from manufacturing jobs which were either outsourced to low – wage countries or ceased to exist because of automation, so this remained on the back burner, with some governments even encouraging early retirement. 

There was also considerable resistance from employers who feared that older workers would not be up to date, would be less productive or be burdened with health issues. As will be seen many of those fears are unfounded and there are a number of  decided advantages in hiring older workers.

The Times, They are a -Changing

In the last decade, the wheel has turned with many governments facing a shrinking tax base and more demands on their services. Some have raised their retirement age or are simply allowing seniors to remain in the workforce longer. Others have either restricted access to pensions or failed to have them keep up with cost-of-living increases, thus making it necessary for many seniors to return to the workforce. The latter -if the recent Australian experience is any guide, can be counterproductive without adequate support. For example, if a person cannot afford good clothes, a haircut and dental care, their chances in the job market are slim. Furthermore, it is likely to be coupled with anxiety and depression for the individual rather than giving them the confidence they need to withstand repeated rejection. For anyone having to  jump through the hoops required by our privatised Job Agencies for people receiving income support, is soul destroying, but for seniors it may take away their last shred of dignity and self - respect. It is little wonder so many give up trying to find work altogether. For many this means sacrificing things like adequate heating or decent food, giving up on any kind of social life and buying fewer goods and services, which is hardly good for the economy either.

With employers now facing crippling labour shortages in several industries, some have begun to recognise the value of older and more experienced workers which means that they are either seeking to retain workers longer, rehiring them under short term contracts or as consultants, or hiring them from scratch. However, an entrenched culture of Ageism still persists and recruitment remains significantly lower than for other age groups.

Older Employees - the Untapped Resource 

Seniors may not be as energetic or nimble when it comes to lifting heavy things or getting stock from lofty heights, but they are healthier than previous generations and have many other virtues, such as having a great work ethic and being unlikely to chop and change jobs. The current trend to work from home which got a big boost during the pandemic and doesn't look like ending anytime soon,  has major advantages for older workers, since it allows more flexible working hours and avoids transport and mobility issues. New technologies such as teleworking also work in favour of older workers. Contrary to long -held perceptions, seniors themselves are the fastest growing group of technology savvy users. Training, automation of some tasks and improved workplace design can improve the output of all workers. Mercedes Benz for example, is experimenting with ergonomic tools which will reduce muscle strain for workers and BMW is putting in wooden floors to reduce stress on knees. 
By the way, Mercedes – Benz is also challenging many of the myths about ageing with a major exhibition which has recently opened in Berlin. It tests the strength and acuity of different age groups to show that differences are individual rather than to do with age. 
The City of Takarazuka in Japan, has been trialling the employment of seniors in good health and who want to work, in aged care homes and daycare centres which were short of staff. When the program was evaluated after three months both the older employees and the facilities were found to have benefited from the arrangement, with most seniors choosing to go on working. At the time of reporting 10 aged care homes and day care centre were taking part.

So how do we overcome Ageism and Age Discrimination?

Since the 7th of October just happens to be Ageism Awareness Day in Australia at least, where Ageism in the workplace is rampant, perhaps it’s time for a quick review. Ageism is the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. It can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs.” – World Health Organization.


Listen to Ashton Applewhite's brilliant TED talk on this. It's a bit long to include here but she tells us that men in their 30's in Silicon Valley are getting Botox and hairplugs because they fear being seen as old. That's Ageism at work. 

As of October 2021, in the wake of the pandemic and our Royal Commission into Ageing, the UN passed a special Resolution pertaining to the Rights of the Elderly to ensure their dignity, safety and the right to participation and employment, free of discrimination. In many cases parties to this resolution have not yet enshrined this in their legislation or even signed the original Declaration of Human Rights, but many jurisdictions have gone it alone. Age Friendly Canberra for instance has its own Declaration, as has Wales in the UK. Even when a country has not formally ratified this convention, many places have laws against discrimination in employment. If you feel you have been discriminated against, see if there’s an Ombudsman, an Anti -discrimination  Board or a Human Rights Commissioner where you live. Here is a list of avenues in Australia. US Federal Law about Age Discrimination is briefly explained below. 




More Reasons to Employ Older Workers 

The UK’s Centre for Ageing Better, outlines other benefits of hiring older workers such as reliability, experience and reduced turnover, and the fact that they are better match when it comes to serving senior customers, which will of course become a much larger component of the customer base, especially if they receive more disposable income. It also has an excellent program on how to avoid bias when hiring and how to become and age friendly employer. 

Andrew Macdonald, General Manager, Human Resources, of Bunnings, Australia and New Zealand’s major hardware chain,  recently told SEEK Employment Services that older workers have long been an important component of the business. With teams ranging in age from 15 to 80, he says “We learned a long time ago that older, more experienced team members are an integral part of creating a business that engenders trust and confidence for our customers. “It also helps us all benefit from the wisdom and character that life experience brings. Our diverse local teams reflect their communities and naturally, mature aged workers have some great experience and can often inspire local customers with their D.I.Y projects and knowledge.” Older workers at the hardware retailer also act as mentors for younger staff members. “This is a win for customers, it's a win for our younger team members and it's a win for the mature age worker.” 

 Another major employer, Australia Post, also employs a large number of older workers with 60% of it’s workforce aged 45 and over. Watch the following clip from the AARP International Employer Awards for companies which employ older workers. This one is about valuing the experience older workers bring and keeping employees for life.



Some of the other clips on this website reveal some interesting trends. For example, one factory’s focus on the long – term future of younger employees. Another is about local government making a point of hiring seniors in Stoke – On – Trent.  Now that’s a trend other municipalities and all levels of government could easily follow in order to change the conversation about ageing.  

For more on the benefits of hiring older workers, particularly in the US and in the IT industry, read author and founder of the Modern Elder Academy, Chip Conley's post about how software company Atlassian improved performance by 58% by simply hiring one diverse team member. He also has a lot of useful tips for integrating, retaining, hiring and capitalising on the presence of older workers. 

Programs which promote the Employment of Older Workers

Our Age -friendly cities are at the forefront when it comes to encouraging the employment of seniors. Hong Kong for example, had a long running pilot study which included initiatives such as employment fairs and on -line job matching. The resulting research paper offers valuable insights regarding employment and retention of older workers.  Lonconche in Chile is setting up an employment centre for seniors so that they will be able to supplement their meagre pensions.

Like Portland, New York also gives Awards to Age -Smart Employers. One new Initiative in my home state is Work45 plus -45 being the age at which Age Discrimination begins to bite in Australia. This is a joint venture between the State Government and COTA, an advocacy group for organisations concerned about Older Australians.  It promises to give job seekers tools and training to improve their chances when applying for jobs and tells employers about the benefits of employing older workers and what government support – both State and Federal, is available should they do so. There are wage support programs for example, also some which help to fund 75% of an employer's retraining costs for older workers, a one – off grant for employing someone over 50 and 50% wage support for taking on Mature Age Apprentices or Trainees. Unrelated programs also provide government support for helping older people to start their own businesses.

Surveys have indicated that there is strong demand for specialised Senior Employment Agencies. Older Workers Australia is an online portal for companies looking for seniors seeking casual, full time, seasonal or part time work. A number of companies including some of Australia’s biggest names, have signed its Age – friendly Employer Pledge to hire more senior job seekers. Major online Employment Service SEEK has also recently added a Senior section. 

For policy - makers, there is some excellent cross -agency research in the publication "Towards age -friendly work in Europe: a life -course perspective." Among the key points are the need to keep workers in good health throughout their working life to ensure good health in later life, to begin much earlier with planning and retraining for potentially different late life careers and to allow a gradual and perhaps earlier reduction in working hours. The need to compensate in some way for lower workforce participation by women due to career interruption, caring duties or because they have been over -represented in lower - wage occupations and roles is also addressed, to avoid women being left in poverty in later years. The issues of countering ageism and getting employers on board remain important.