Australian workplaces are facing the most significant demographic shift in modern human history.
In 1990, just 15.9 percent of the Australian population was aged over 55. Today, that figure sits at one in four – which looks set to increase even further to around one in three within the next decade.
But are we ready?
Apparently not – 44 percent of Australian organisations are unprepared for the significant impacts of the ageing workforce, believing the changing demographics will have little bearing on them.
And just one in three small organisations – those with fewer than 50 staff – believe the ageing workforce will impact them, while 69 percent of larger organisations with 200 or more staff say the same.
Which is why a new report by the University of Melbourne and the Centre for Workplace Leadership presents a range of significant challenges organisations are set to face with the ageing workforce.
And because there’s evidence to suggest older workers are more highly represented in NFPs – particularly in the community services sector – it’s an issue your organisation likely can’t afford to ignore.
So with thanks to the CWL report, here are six steps for how your organisation can better engage your older staff:
1. Create a strategy
According to Chandler Macleod, only 20 percent of Australian organisations have strategies in place to attract, engage and retain older workers. And in organisations where these strategies do exist, there’s often a disconnect between what organisations are implementing and what staff want.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, organisations with an over-representation of older workers are far more likely to already have strategies in place, or plans to do so. Research also suggests large and unionised organisations are better at implementing such strategies than smaller ones.
As workers age and retire, your organisation needs to a plan to address workforce participation and an inevitable loss of skills and knowledge – especially since evidence shows early retirement is often driven by organisations themselves.
2. Start monitoring
How will you know what you’re doing well and what needs to change if you don’t monitor how your organisation is going?
Though it’s generally important to collect and monitor data from across your workforce, this is particularly vital when it comes to your older staff. Focus on gathering information like age, retirement intentions, training participation, performance evaluation, and adoption of workplace flexibility. You can then be strategic in your approach to managing your older workforce by setting targets against this baseline data.
3. Acknowledge stereotypes – and work to dispel them
It’s not uncommon for some workers to hold unfair stereotypes about their older colleagues – they’re less motivated, harder to train, more resistant and less adaptable to change than their younger counterparts, for instance.
Studies suggest these biases place older workers at a disadvantage in the labour market and workplace. What’s more, older workers can often hold such stereotypes about themselves, even when they’re not true.
To combat this, consider training managers and HR staff in awareness around the notion that age is an issue more complex than simple chronology. This can be powerful in equipping your staff with the ability to identify and challenge stereotypes and biased behaviours in the workplace.
Another effective way of breaking down stereotypes is to bring together the different generations that make up your workforce. Quality contact between older and younger staff decreases negative perceptions on both sides, and potentially reduces older workers’ intention to quit.
Further, generational differences can mean there’s expertise and practical experience to be shared. For example, research shows that older workers are better at stress management, as well as at problem-focused coping strategies – strategies they can share with their less-equipped younger counterparts.
Finally, ensure your organisation’s performance systems are fair and free of age-related bias. Older workers who feel they’re assessed in the same way as their younger colleagues show greater attachment to their organisation – which makes them more likely to stay.
4. Manage retirement and departure in everyone’s interests
Older workers often have superior job-related skills built up over years, and are better able to self-manage – and that means they’re valuable to your organisation.
There’s also little evidence to support the common belief that older workers are costly. In fact, even if an older worker does have a higher salary, it can often be counterbalanced by other factors like lower rates of absenteeism and resignation, as well as strong work performance.
To deter early retirement and prolong older workers’ participation, consider implementing strategies like reducing stress, encouraging flexible work arrangements (like part-time, teleworking and job-sharing) and giving workers more autonomy.
You should also aim to keep staff engaged in the workforce, being prepared to reconfigure work to allow a gradual exit of staff. Reducing the departure of older staff can also help your organisation avoid the costs associated with hiring and training.
5. Address the mental and physical impacts of ageing on your organisation
By 2035, it’s estimated that fewer than 50 percent of those currently in Australia’s workforce will still be there as a result of waging and ailing health.
And more than a quarter of Australians over 50 surveyed by the Australian Human Rights Commission reported experiencing some form of age discrimination over the past two years.
Collectively, that’s a lot of older workers facing physical and mental health issues – issues that impact on the productivity of your organisation.
How to address this? Prioritise workplace health promotion activities as part of a long-term strategy for retention and reducing turnover. Such activities could also have additional – and immediate – benefits like employee engagement, innovation and productivity.
And rather than making age-based assumptions, use a case-by-case measure for assessing continued performance of your potentially diverse older workers.
Is an older staff member no longer responding to the physical demands of their position? Consider tailoring it to suit the new status quo, ensuring their knowledge and experience are retained within the organisation.
Finally, be sure to recognise and reward the contributions of older workers, highlighting their professional knowledge, experience, reliability, loyalty and commitment.
6. Develop age-friendly HR systems
The one-size-fits-all style of HR that many organisations adopt often doesn’t effectively recognise the needs of different groups at different stages of their careers.
Tailoring your HR processes can boost your organisation’s performance, as well as lower absenteeism and turnover. It can also allow you to focus on the needs of individuals at particular points in their careers.
Succession planning is also a vital consideration for every organisation. Identify those in your workforce who are considering retirement in the medium term and help plan their transition. This can help to ensure their knowledge, insights and experience aren’t lost.
There’s no hiding from it: the workforce of the future will be much older than it is today. To avoid potential pitfalls in the years to come, you need to think strategically about how your organisation will approach the issues accompanying this significant demographic shift – now.
How is your organisation responding to the challenges presented by the ageing workforce? Share your thoughts in the comments below!