Age diversity is good for business – with the Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO

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Age diversity is good for business – with The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO – Age Discrimination Commissioner

This story was first published on Thursday 27 July 2023. If you wish to use this content, please contact media@dewr.gov.au to confirm that the information is still current.

The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO, Australia’s current Age Discrimination Commissioner, shared with us her thoughts and insights on mature age employment before she officially retires from the role on 28 July 2023.

With a strong and genuine interest in societal issues affecting older Australians, Dr Patterson started her role as Australia’s Age Discrimination Commissioner in 2016, after a long and notable public service career. Over the years, she led and championed significant work addressing age discrimination in the workplace, elder abuse in the community and older women’s risk of homelessness. She has become a prominent figure, using her platform and role to raise awareness and understanding of issues affecting older Australians.

Find part one of this two-part series below, where Dr Patterson goes into depth on how employers can benefit from mature age employees.

What are the advantages of having an age diverse workforce?

"Currently there are 5 generations at work. They bring a range of skills, experiences and expectations about workplaces and about working with others.

Smart employers are already providing workplace cultures which are attractive to employees of all ages, including rapidly increasing numbers of workers aged 55 and over. Employers who lead by example and embrace age diversity will reap the rewards in terms of productivity, innovation, problem solving and workforce stability.

This year we again partnered with the Australian Human Resources Institute for a fifth time on the Employing and Retaining Older Workers survey, to gain insights into employers’ perceptions about older workers.

The report found prevailing age discrimination against older workers by employers contradicts the real-life experience of working with them.Many employers surveyed, report no difference between older and younger workers in terms of job performance, concentration, ability to adapt to change, energy levels and creativity.

Advantages of older workers were found to be coping with stress, attendance, reliability, awareness, commitment and loyalty. Advantages of younger workers include their physical capability, ambition and proficiency in using technology.

It seems to me that most workplaces would need a combination of these skills. Diversity, including age diversity, is reflective of modern Australia and good for business."

Recognising these advantages and the current skills shortage, which employment sectors do you see hiring older Australians? Do you have an example you can share with us?

"Australians are increasingly working to older ages. National Skills Commission (now Jobs and Skills Australia) figures show that over the last 40 years, the share of people aged 55 and over in the Australian workforce has almost doubled. That’s an increase of close to 2 million people with an ageing population, the only way for this trend is up.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in May 2021 older people were most commonly employed in the industries of health care and social assistance, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and education and training. Their roles were most likely to be as professionals, managers or clerical and administrative workers.

There are many older workers who are only seeking some part-time or casual work, a bit of extra income to supplement living expenses or to keep an active lifestyle.

To provide an example, there is a Queenscliff café owner who struggled to get hospitality staff last year when there were fewer university students and foreign workers around, so he sent 42,000 promotional postcards to homes in the Bellarine, Surf Coast and Mornington Peninsula and invited seniors to apply. He gained 12 new seniors aged between 60 and 74 years as waiters and kitchenhands, who he says have ‘amazing life skills, are well-groomed and punctual’ and the customers love them. The older people love it because they don’t have to work a lot, they can supplement the rising cost of living pressures with an income, and it keeps them connected. One kitchenhand said he has become known as Have-a-Chat."

What barriers do you think prevent employers from hiring older Australians?

"Despite the labour climate being tight, ageist perceptions and employment practices prevail and older Australians continue to face cumulative barriers to gaining employment.

Workplace age discrimination can occur at the point of recruitment, in relation to opportunities for training, development, and promotion and access to flexible work practices.

In the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2016 Willing to Work report, 27% of people over the age of 50 reported experiencing age discrimination at work. One third reported this occurred when applying for a job. A third of those who had experienced age discrimination gave up looking for work.

Our latest Employing and Retaining Older Workers survey with the Australian HR Institute also found one in six organisations will not consider hiring people aged 65. Eighteen per cent of those surveyed still have an older age above which they will not recruit. While this attitude is steadily declining, down from 52% in 2014, it is still too high.

Prevailing ageist stereotypes and myths about older workers are key contributors to employers’ reluctance to hire older workers. This includes stereotypes about older people having declining skills, agency, and vitality; and lacking in competence in many areas such as technology and professionally.

Other barriers include inflexible recruitment and retention practices. Digitisation of many processes including the recruitment process may also disadvantage older workers."

You may recall from the recent podcast ‘Is age the new ism?’ that the top reason given for why employers don’t employ older Australians was because ‘they don’t apply’. How can employers change their recruitment practices to attract job applications from a more diverse range of individuals, including older Australians?

"Data from the Employing and Retaining Older Workers survey suggests that recruitment practices, employers’ lack of openness to flexible working and access to training and development initiatives may be contributing to a fall in older worker applicants.

Some simple strategies employers can apply to their recruitment practices to attract applicants of all ages include:

  • Ensuring the content of the job ad attracts all ages
  • Ensuring the job location attracts full range of age groups
  • Excluding date of birth from application forms
  • Offering flexible work arrangements
  • Training staff with the recruitment responsibilities to ensure all recruitment practices are free of age bias.

The Commission also provides a range of how-to guides and practical tools to help employers build and manage a successful multigenerational workforce. These free resources are available at Older Workers Resource Hub | Australian Human Rights Commission."

The department would like to thank Dr Patterson for her time and insights.

Part two of this series is coming soon. Follow us @WorkforceAusGov or subscribe to the newsroom in the right-hand column to get an alert when part two is live!

If you would like more information on securing work as a mature age worker or would like to attract mature age workers to your business, visit Mature Age Hub.

Correct at time of publication.