Ageism at Work: Baby Boomers Feel the Need to Hide Their Age

Ageism at work

Getting older—we can’t escape it. 

The good news is we’re living longer than ever before, in part due to improvements in health services, safer working environments and advances in medical technologies. We’re also keeping active and staying in the workforce for longer too. Employment among older workers, defined as those aged 55 and over, has increased by 4.8% per year over the past half decade, almost twice the growth rate of those aged 25-54-years. What’s more, labour force participation by older workers in Australia is expected to rise further in coming decades because of a gradual increase in the retirement age to 67 by 2023.

Fortunately, the shift to a more services-oriented economy has made it easier for older workers to remain highly productive even as they reach traditional retirement age. However, as the share of the Australian population aged 55 and over continues to increase, it’s important for businesses to ensure their company is truly inclusive for their older workforce. In this article, we cover the realities of ageism at work in Australia, and three steps you can take to combat age discrimination. 

Ageism at work in Australia

Despite older Australians staying in the workforce for longer than before, it appears that they are subject to ageism at work. A recent report by Indeed, titled Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Fostering an environment for all employees to thrive found that 34% of Baby Boomers say they hide part of their identity at work. One of the most common things they hide is their age (33%). 

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Younger candidates may seem like a better long-term investment to some employers, but changes in the nature of work mean that older workers are able to remain in the workforce for much longer than in previous generations. Age discrimination can hold older workers back, in some cases forcing them into retirement, while also depriving businesses of a wealth of experience. 

In 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission along with the Australian HR Institute conducted a survey of over 900 HR practitioners. The survey revealed that up to 30% of Australian employers are still reluctant to hire workers over a certain age, and for more than two thirds of them, that age was over 50. This is a clear indication that ageism is still prevalent in many Australian workplaces.

ageism at work

Ways to combat ageism at work

Outdated stereotypes still influence perceptions of age in the workplace.To help overcome ageism at work and the harm it can cause to both individuals and the economy, companies should take action. Here are a few ways to make your business more friendly to older workers and job seekers:

1. Offer flexible working arrangements
This includes the ability to work from home, leave work early, or even set their own working hours during the week. Part time positions and job share roles are great options for those wanting to ease into retirement, but still remain employed. More accessible workstations, and a focus on better workplace ergonomics are also things that can help accommodate the needs of people of all ages.

2. Tackle unconscious bias
More than 60% of the complaints received by the Australian Human Rights Commission are regarding age discrimination related to employment. Ensure your recruiters and the wider workforce undertake unconscious bias training to help prevent age-related bias occurring at your workplace. It’s also a good idea to incorporate age diversity into your D&I policies.

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3. Encourage reverse mentoring
Mentoring doesn’t need to be one-directional—we all have plenty to learn and knowledge to pass on. ‘Reverse mentoring’ (popularised in 1999 by former CEO of GE, Jack Welch), is where a younger employee is paired with an older employee to pass on new ideas and perspectives. Leveraging each other’s strengths and lived experiences results in greater collaboration and encourages an environment of mutual respect.

The impact of COVID-19 on superannuation may force some older workers to remain in the workforce for longer than anticipated. Shares across the world fell sharply as economic restrictions were put in place, although they have at least partially recovered. Housing, including rental returns, is also expected to struggle as the economy continues to battle with COVID-19, leading to further declines in the financial circumstances of Australia’s older population—and increasing the pressure to work for longer. Unfortunately, older workers who find themselves unemployed can struggle to find a pathway back to employment. 

As a result, it’s more important than ever before for businesses to combat ageism at work to ensure not only their company, but also the economy, can reap the benefits of a thriving multigenerational workforce.

If you’re interested in reading more about the state of D&I in Australia today, download Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace: Fostering an environment for all employees to thrive.

*The research in this report was commissioned by Thrive PR on behalf of Indeed and conducted by YouGov. The study was conducted online between 13 – 19 February 2020, involving 1,512 participants.

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