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  • Tamar Balkin

The Mature Worker: An Asset Or A Liability?

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me When I'm sixty-four”

When I'm Sixty-Four by The Beatles (Click here for the song)


Iris Apfel: Entrepreneur and Fashion Icon


 

“They told me that they approached me for the role because they wanted a mature worker; I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or offended.”

Colleague

 


It's 2023 is there still age discrimination in the workplace?


 

“Perceptions of older people being less deserving, incapacitated or in need of protection, can affect the ways in which services are accessed and delivered, particularly in the workplace, healthcare and aged care, and within families and local communities”

(Benevolent Society 2017; COTA 2021).


 

Researchers have found that as a society, we tolerate ageism more than other forms of discrimination. In fact, during the last two years, more than a quarter (27%) of Australians aged 50 and above have reported instances of age discrimination within the workplace.


What is particularly fascinating about this bias is that older people have the same diversity of gender, ethnicity, personality, and ability as the general population. Considering the needs and perspectives of mature workers in inclusion initiatives will improve a business's employee and customer brand.


Interestingly strong advocates for equality in the workplace still engage in “succession-based ageism,”. They believe that older workers prevent younger people, women, and members of marginalised groups from moving up — even though older workers are a disadvantaged group.


Researchers have found that in the workplace there are assumptions that older workers are stubborn, less capable, frail, and technologically illiterate. These assumptions lead to incorrect negative judgements of performance, engagement, stress levels and job satisfaction.


Unfortunately, there are still age-stereotyped employment policies and managerial behaviour. Regular readers would be aware of the negative impact of these attitudes and beliefs.


 

What are the advantages of attracting and retaining mature workers for the organisation?


 

“I always thought that having older people in the workforce was going to be the best thing to happen to young parents,” says Carstensen. “They both want the same thing: flexibility” — namely, the ability to enter, exit, and re-enter the workforce as they please.”


 

Researchers have found the following benefits of attracting and retaining mature workers:

  • Increase the applicant pool.

  • Gain access to specialist expertise, especially in times of low unemployment.

  • Benefit from government-funded financial incentives, access special training grants, and support for job creation

  • Provide a different perspective on problems and ideas.

  • Be innovative, and effective, and generate new opportunities.

  • Improve business processes.

  • Fill skill or knowledge gaps.

  • Mentor and train others.

  • Serve as excellent role models for organisational commitment and loyalty.

  • Low rates of absenteeism.

  • Improve productivity.

  • Manage change and implementation of new technology.

  • Role model and champion emotional intelligence and well-being.

  • Provide insight into more mature demographics, helping your business to widen its appeal to a broader customer base.

  • Provide input and leadership on diversity initiatives.

  • Champion initiatives that a relevant to other minority groups.

  • Promote your business as an inclusive place for job seekers.

  • Reflect and embody the values and characteristics of the community.

  • Adapt swiftly to changes in the operating environment, competitive pressures, and external economic conditions.


Due to their loyalty mature workers typically provide a reliable return on investment. Research indicates that 45% of workers aged 45 or above have expressed their intention to continue working until the age range of 65-69. In contrast, workers aged 30 to 39 tend to remain with an employer for an average duration of 5.8 years.


Recent research has found that emotional intelligence increases with age, especially when it comes to understanding and regulating emotions.



What factors impact older workers' employment decisions?


According to the research, factors such as work motivation, enjoyment, flexibility, fulfilment, health, and financial situation play a significant role in influencing individuals' decisions to continue working beyond retirement age.


Working longer provides psychological benefits such as the ability to remain socially and intellectually connected.


Unfortunately, negative age-based stereotypes pertaining to productivity, reliability, and personal adaptability impact self-reported employability, and exaggerate the effects of age.


 

‘My second reason is to continue participating in society. When you are employed, you are part of society. You are not standing on the sideline, which is something what happens if you are ageing."

(Male, 67 years, employee, medium educated, focus group)


 

Older workers want to have a satisfying balance between work and relaxation in their lives, the greater control they have over their work time the longer they will remain in the workforce. In addition, the greater flexibility to choose projects, the ability to work at one's preferred pace, and to work in a familiar and comfortable environment increases the retention rates of mature workers.


What else can you do to retain staff?


Engage older employees in discussions aimed at addressing and overcoming age-related barriers within the workplace.


Age-diverse practices and management, concentrating on the intrinsic factors of older workers, opposing negative age-based stereotyping, creating an inclusive environment, and encouraging career opportunities at all ages.


Job design that optimises the employees interests and strengths is intuitively appealing to all workers but particularly older workers who may have higher levels of self-awareness.


Customisation of the work environment and adaptations to roles enable a long, successful work life, high satisfaction and well-being.


Improving the psychosocial work environment is particularly important in careers characterised by high levels of burnout.


Support individuals or groups of staff who want to develop initiatives to combat age barriers.


Creating a harmonious equilibrium between the career aspirations of all employees necessitates engaging in open dialogues with senior staff regarding their skills, interests, and work requirements. It also calls for fostering creativity and innovation in areas such as working conditions, compensation, and job design.


Finally, it is critical to be aware that all employees may become bored in their roles (click here for my blog on boredom). Engaging in regular confidential and non-judgmental career conversations allows individuals to recognise the need for change in terms of job roles, organisations, or even industries before behaviours that could potentially hinder their career progression emerge. Flexibility in both employment conditions and career pathways will benefit all employees (click here for my blog on career decisions).


Mature workers will benefit in the pre-retirement stage, from a more gradual transition to retirement, and access to personal financial advice and retirement planning. Irrespective of age, graceful exits are essential for the employee and the organisation.



The delightful movie "The Intern," featuring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro, intelligently debunks many misconceptions surrounding mature workers.




Click here for the trailer.


 

References and further information https://www.facs.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/665921/Mature-Aged-Employment-Fact-Sheet.pdf https://business.gov.au/people/employees/equal-opportunity-and-diversity Sharon K Parker, Daniela M Andrei, Include, Individualize, and Integrate: Organizational Meta-strategies for Mature Workers, Work, Aging and Retirement, Volume 6, Issue 1, January 2020, Pages 1–7, https://doi.org/10.1093/workar/waz009 Noone, J., Knox, A., O’Loughlin, K., McNamara, M., Bohle, P. and Mackey, M. (2018). An Analysis of Factors Associated With Older Workers’ Employment Participation and Preferences in Australia. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02524. https://www.dewr.gov.au/mature-age-hub/resources/mature-age-information-employers-investing-experience-tool-kit Stanford Graduate School of Business. (2020). ‘We Have 30 Extra Years’: A New Way of Thinking About Aging. [online] Available at: https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/we-have-30-extra-years-new-way-thinking-about-aging [Accessed 23 May 2023]. Topa, G., Earl, J.K. and James, J.B. (2020). Editorial: Psychological Mechanisms That Affect Economic Decisions to Work Longer. Frontiers in Psychology, 10. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03003. Sewdas, R., de Wind, A., van der Zwaan, L.G.L., van der Borg, W.E., Steenbeek, R., van der Beek, A.J. and Boot, C.R.L. (2017). Why older workers work beyond the retirement age: a qualitative study. BMC Public Health, 17(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4675-z. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/older-people/older-australians/contents/justice-and-safety Chen, Y., Peng, Y. and Fang, P. (2016). Emotional Intelligence Mediates the Relationship between Age and Subjective Well-Being. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 83(2), pp.91–107. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/0091415016648705.

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