Australia’s population is slowly ageing, and there is an increasing proportion of older employees in organisational workforces. Research indicates that there many negative perceptions about older workers in general, such as health concerns, resistance to change, higher proneness to injuries, and general forgetfulness. However, these perceptions are changing, resulting in an attitude shift in favour of ageing workers. So what steps can the management take to tap into this relatively underutilised group of employees?

Ageing Australian employees: finding the silver lining

Organisations are increasingly aware of the positives of hiring older workers in terms of higher reliability, better experience, and less likelihood of leaving the organisation. Unfortunately, most organisations do not have any strategies for the health and safety of older workers. Businesses can benefit to a significant extent by leveraging shifting retirement plans to narrow the skills gap.

The perspective about retirement age is fast-changing. Mature employees realise that they cannot afford to stop working, or they may not be ready to make the big move, or they simply do not want to retire as they enjoy their work. As a result, many Australian employees continue to work past the standard retirement age of 66 and 6 months when people are eligible for the pension. Some may opt for part-time roles or become consultants in fields where there is a gap between supply and demand. The new shift brings with it challenges as well as blessings.

On the positive side, the postponement of retirement can help prevent the brain drain that typically occurs when experienced employees retire. Employers have the opportunity to tap into the experience and specialised skills of an older employee. Retaining an older worker is easier than hiring and onboarding new talent. On the negative side, an ageing workforce may involve increases in payroll, clogging of the talent pipeline, and denial of opportunities to younger candidates.

Reasons behind the emerging trend

There are four key drivers that are currently influencing how older employees are viewing retirement and how organisations are responding:

Improved health

With an increase in life expectancy and better health services, many mature employees are healthier and more active than before. Their longer life expectancy means there is less urgency to start enjoying retirement. Older workers not only have more value to add but also possess the stamina and vigour to deliver. People are also interested in building a bigger nest egg for greater future comfort and independence.

Inability to realise retirement dreams

Many employees find that their wealth is insufficient to help them realise their dreams. While some haven’t saved enough for retirement, others have watched their retirement funds stagnate or decline due to a struggling economy.

Consistent demand for key skills

Many organisations are struggling to recruit and retain the critical skills required to achieve their strategic goals. Moreover, the shortage is expected to grow over the next three to five years. In many cases, the roles that are the hardest to fill have the most impact on company performance and require the maximum experience. The gap in talent offers beneficial opportunities to older employees to extend their careers beyond retirement age.

Shifts in government policy

New and emerging government policies also have a varied effect on the trend. However, social, economic and labour policies are not transforming swiftly enough to meet the demands of an ageing population. According to statistics, more than 20 per cent of Australians stated their intention to work until the age of 70 compared to just eight per cent in 2004–2005. Many of the concerns raised about interactions of older workers and their performance may not affect day-to-day workplace reality, and this fact acts as a deterrent to implementing sound policies for their welfare and health.

Forward-looking employers are looking to take advantage of the knowledge and skills that create value for the organisation. At the same time, they work to avoid creating a grey ceiling that prevents younger talent from rising to the top.

How to manage a mature workforce

Employers are offering flexible schedules, wellness programs, and phased retirement to retain and nurture older employees in various ways:

  • Creating new roles and providing older workers with fresh challenges.
  • Helping mature employees transfer crucial knowledge and skills to accelerate the careers of younger workers.
  • Offering a multi-dimensional retirement model with medical aid, salaries, and rewards.
  • Offering fair and equitable options in terms of career flexibility and work customisation that benefit the organisation and the employee.
  • Focusing on ongoing development such as online training, temporary jobs in other departments, and targeted learning programs.
  • Offering opportunities to blue-collar workers as well as jobs that no longer demand as much of physical labour thanks to increased automation.

ESN offers customised consulting services designed to meet your organisation’s changing needs. Our highly trained consultants provide a variety of training programs to enhance staff well-being. Our best-practice techniques can help your organisation cope with changing workforce demographics.

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