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Myth Vs Reality Aging and the Workforce

Myth: Mature age workers are slower and less productive than younger workers. The retirement age once was set at 65 for men and 60 for women in order to make way for the younger generation of workers who were perceived to be more productive than older workers.

The reality: Government policy encourages older workers to stay in employment, reinforcing the usefulness of older people.

Unfortunately, mature aged workers are the ones most likely to be retrenched or encouraged to take redundancies due to organisational restructuring and they are likely to face age  discrimination when seeking work. In July 2006, there were 462,000 unemployed people (54 per cent male, 46 per cent female). Twenty-four per cent were aged over 45 years of age; 76 per cent of these older unemployed were looking for full-time work, and 29 per cent of them reported the main barrier to work was that they were considered too old by employers.

With almost one third of Australian employees in the 45-64 year age group, there are moves to encourage mature aged workers to remain in the workforce longer. Research highlights several challenges to retaining older workers: recognition of the health and wellbeing of individual workers, a workplace environment suited to older workers, and ways to retain those who are financially secure.

Some of the myths about older workers include: People over 65 years are too old to keep working; they do not care about their employer; absenteeism is high; it is a waste of time training them because they will only retire; and they are technophobes who are unable to use new technologies.

While the majority of workers regard ‘old’ as beginning around 60 years, employers classify workers as ‘old’ at much earlier ages.

Nearly 40 per cent of workers think that employers begin to view a worker as old by the age of 50. The reality is that over the past three decades serious health problems have been declining and a study in the US found that almost 70 per cent of workers expected to continue working either full-time or part-time after retiring from their main job, as they needed the income.

Mature age workers have been shown to have experience, a commitment to quality and lower rates of job turnover, absenteeism and accidents than younger workers. They are strongly motivated to succeed in the job and companies with more highly engaged employees outperform their industry peers on a range of key business and financial measures. Rates of absenteeism for older workers are around 4.1 per cent for the 55 years and over, only slightly more than the 3.8 per cent for those between 25-54 years of age.

Studies of work practices in organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom found stereotypes about skills and qualities existed on the basis of age. However, there is growing evidence that workers aged 50 and older bring experience, dedication, focus, stability and enhanced knowledge to their work while the costs of replacing experienced workers is considerable.

Younger workers are more likely to receive training, especially with new technologies, while older workers are more likely to be offered redundancies. However, the rate of growth in the use of internet technology among older people is greater than that of other age groups in the US, where they have grown from 19 per cent to 38 per cent of the internet audience.

Employers should make the best use of all employees and manage organisational changes so that all are integrated.

Older workers provide valuable corporate history and knowledge, and when given opportunities they shine. Some have been working since they were 14 years old, were brought up in times when physical work was hard, and may choose to retire early; others would like to continue to work longer, even part-time. They have a high work ethic and experience, but often feel pressured to retire.

Source: https://www.qld.gov.au/seniors/documents/retirement/ageing-myth-reality.pdf


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