Older workers face employment discrimination
The Sector > Jobs News > Older workers are facing discrimination, HR professionals survey finds

Older workers are facing discrimination, HR professionals survey finds

by Freya Lucas

June 07, 2023

One in six organisations will not consider hiring those over 65 years of age in any circumstance, a new survey from the Australian HR Institute (AHRI) and the Australian Human Rights Commission has found, highlighting the challenging conditions older people face when it comes to the world of work. 


The 2023 Employing and Retaining Older Workers Survey also found that only a quarter of employers are open to hiring those aged 65 and above ‘to a large extent’.  


AHRI CEO Sarah McCann-Bartlett describes these attitudes as “disappointing” and says organisations are doing themselves a disservice by not considering older workers particularly at a time when Australia is experiencing historically high levels of job vacancies. 


Vacancy rates are almost double what they were pre-pandemic, she continued, and two-thirds of HR professionals who completed the survey said they are having difficulty in recruiting.  


“Our results show employment of older workers could help ease these shortages as there are too many workplaces where older workers are not being utilised to their full potential,” she added. 


Despite the reluctance of HR professionals to make the initial hire of someone older, many report that the lived experience of employing an older worker was “no different” to a worker of a younger age, in terms of job performance, concentration, ability to adapt to change, energy levels and creativity.  


Respondents also recognised the advantages of older workers when it came to coping with stress, attendance, reliability, awareness, commitment and loyalty, while others highlighted younger workers’ physical capability, ambition and proficiency in using technology as positive attributes. 


“This contradiction leads to lost opportunities all round,” said Australian Human Rights Commission’s Age Discrimination Commissioner, the Hon. Dr Kay Patterson AO.


“It means employers lose access to a ready-made talent pool, and older people who are willing to work lose the chance to contribute their talents to the workforce, life satisfaction and financial security.”


“Many older workers can offer the knowledge, skills, and wisdom that businesses are currently seeking. Employers just need to shift their perspective, trust the data and stop buying into myths about older workers.”  


In other findings, the survey revealed nearly half of the workplaces surveyed offered flexible work locations, and that there has been “a welcome rise” in employers offering flexible job design policies, which almost doubled compared to previous years.


Concerningly, the survey also showed a decline in employers offering career planning and advice, training and development opportunities, and even flexible working hours.  


“This is a worrying development because flexible work hours and access to ongoing training are key to attracting and retaining workers of all ages and life stages,” Dr Patterson said.  


The three greatest obstacles HR professionals surveyed said they face in recruiting older workers are a lack of applicants (32 per cent), a perception that older workers lack the necessary tech skills (22 per cent) and salary expectations that are too high (20 per cent).  


“Diversity is good for business – and that includes age diversity. This means the smart employers are providing workplace cultures which are attractive to employees of all ages, including the rapidly increasing number of workers who are 55+ years of age,” Dr Patterson added.


“Employers who lead by example and embrace age diversity will reap the rewards in terms of productivity, innovation, problem solving and workforce stability.” 


View the full report here.

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