Ageism at work: are you too old for a new job?

Finding work over the age of 50 let alone 45 can be difficult, especially if you’ve been laid off or made to retire. Thousands of mature-aged Australians are unemployed and live off unemployment benefits simply because they can’t find a job.

But one main reason influencing the mature Australian’s employability is ageism in the workplace.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), 68% of age discrimination complaints made are about employment. Older people often face discrimination due to their age, but are they really too old to get a job? Should age be used as a determinant to employ someone? With their decades of wisdom gained through experience and other great personality traits, older people are a valuable asset to any workplace.

 

Age discrimination in employment

Discrimination against older people is widespread in employment. Mature-aged workers usually complain that they’re discriminated against due to their age, resulting in not being able to get another job. It’s quite common for them to be overlooked for workplace training and promotions, or ending up being pressured to retire early or take on redundancy packages

Here are some examples of age discrimination in employment:

  • Advertising for someone to join a team of young and dynamic people
  • Not interviewing someone because they’re too old to fit in with other employees
  • Not employing older workers because it’s expected that they’ll want to retire soon
  • Not offering training and promotional opportunities for older workers because it isn’t worth it
  • Not providing workplace programs that focus on the needs and wants of older workers
  • Perceiving older workers as having outdated skills or being too qualified or slow to learn
  • Making someone redundant or retire because they’re old.

According to the CoreData Senior Workplace Survey 2016, 49% of people over-50s said that it took them more than six months to find a new job, whereas 22% struggled for more than three years before landing another job.

Ageism doesn’t end there, with 30% experiencing age discrimination at work, e.g. 21% of over-50s are annoyed with aged-based prejudices regarding their ability to perform certain tasks or roles.

The most common reasons for discrimination against mature-aged workers is that they’re seen as being overqualified (45%), lacking the right ‘company fit’ (30%), or not being tech-savvy enough (24%). Moreover, 42% of over-50s said that they feel trapped in their jobs due to a genuine fear that they can no longer switch careers or move up the ladder due to age.

 

Older vs. younger workers – why is older is better?

Although older workers are often discriminated against in the workplace, they could provide a necessary balance. While the survey found that only 9.8% of over-50s have strong technical skills compared to a higher 26.9% of younger people, older workers ranked higher when it came to general people skills. They also showcased the ability to collaborate and work in a team with natural aptitudes for innovation and problem solving.

What’s more, with communication and collaboration being key drivers in any successful business, older people win again as 80-90% of them prefer to communicate face-to-face, instead of communicating via email, telephone, Skype or chat, which is how most younger people communicate.

Older workers also ranked higher than younger workers when it came to adaptability and reliability. While 64% of younger workers dislike change in the workplace, only 56% of older workers think the same. The over-50s are also more likely to do additional training, with only 27% of them not wanting to learn new skills compared to 31% of younger people.

Moreover, older workers are more productive, taking only three days of sick leave per year compared to six days for younger workers. Within a five year period younger workers will change jobs twice and older workers just once. Plus, only 24% of over-50s will think of leaving their current job in the next year compared to 47% for younger people.

 

Looking for work – how you can get a job?

If you know that you can still work, then you’re never too old to get a job. In fact, the government wants older people to work longer as it’ll help boost productivity. An extra 3% participation rate in over-55 workers is expected to provide a $33 billion boost to Australia’s GDP, whereas a 5% increase would see a whopping $48 billion boost to the Australian economy.

The government also introduced an incentive scheme called Experience+, which offers employers $1000 job bonuses if they employ eligible, mature-aged workers. What’s more, as an added incentive for older people to continue working, the pension age will go up from 67 to 70 years by July 2035. And with most people now expected to live up to 100, older people should be able to get a job to help pay for living costs.

However, most employers won’t be on board with the government’s plans, and the age of someone considered an older worker is getting younger – instead of 65, it’s 50 or even 45. To give context someone who is 45 yrs is defined as an older worker and could be made redundant. It could  then take them more than a year to get another job, which will most likely be casual, part-time, or a job no one else wants.

The sad reality is some people even spend money to make themselves look younger just to ensure employability in the workforce.

There is good news and you can still get a job by thinking ahead. Age-proof your resume and showcase only relevant experience, skills and qualifications. Use your network, and update your skillset (e.g. becoming more computer literate, or learning in demand software and programs on sites like Udemy). Use job boards like Adage and BeNext specialise in offering positions for people over 50.

 

Let’s eliminate ageism in the workplace

Older workers can bring benefits to the workplace and economy. And with the government’s plan to keep older people in the workforce, the time has come to permanently remove age discrimination in the workplace.

Moreover, 30% of over-50s surveyed said they’ll continue working beyond the age of 65, which means older workers are highly motivated and shouldn’t be discriminated against.

Employers also have the responsibility to prevent age discrimination in the workplace – ‘Positive duty’.

This means an employer should take proactive steps to eliminate age discrimination. For example, if recruitment and employment policies unreasonably bar older people from being employed or stop them from working, then it’s the responsibility of the employer to stop this.

The changes employers should support include:

  • Demonstrating generational diversity in staff photos on the company website and the language used in job ads
  • Providing equal access to training and promotional opportunities, and benefits such as incentives and bonus payments
  • Training managers to consider hiring older people, as they’re more likely to stay, less likely to get hurt, less naïve and more experienced
  • Having age-inclusive workplace programs, e.g. retirement planning, aged care advice and senior networking
  • Encouraging key older workers to stay on the job past retirement age and luring redundant or retired workers back
  • Avoiding making someone redundant or retire when downsizing simply because they’re old.

It’s not only against the law to discriminate against older workers and force them to retire, but it’s also costly for employers and bad for business and the economy.

By eliminating ageism in the workplace, the untapped skills and experience that seniors can provide can be used within companies to remain competitive and strengthen the economy.

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