Ageism is blocking older people from the workforce, findings from a survey of HR professionals about attitudes to older workers show.
A partnership between the Australian HR Institute and the Australian Human Rights Commission, the 2023 Employing and Retaining Older Workers Survey found one in six organisations will not consider hiring people aged 65 and above while only a quarter are open to hiring those aged 65 and above ‘to a large extent’.
Just over half (56%) of HR professionals say they are open to recruiting people aged 50-64 to ‘a large extent’ while 18% say either that they would be open to recruiting from the same age cohort ‘to a small extent’ or ‘not at all’.
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.
“ABS data shows there were 439,000 vacancies in February 2023 which is almost double the vacancies pre-pandemic, while two-thirds of HR professionals we surveyed say they are currently experiencing recruitment difficulties.
“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”.
The report found that the reluctance by some HR professionals to recruit older workers contradicted the lived experience of employing them, with many reporting no difference between older and younger workers 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.
Australian Human Rights Commission’s Age Discrimination Commissioner, The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO said: "This contradiction leads to lost opportunities all round. 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.”
Approximately 50% of survey respondents said that their workplace offered flexible work locations. There was also 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.
“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.
“Employers who lead by example and embrace age diversity will reap the rewards in terms of productivity, innovation, problem solving and workforce stability.”
The report also shows:
The age at which the HR community thinks being an older worker starts, has increased compared with the 2021 report. Over a third (36%) of HR professionals believe that employees aged between 61 and 65 constitute the threshold for becoming an older worker, up from 28% in 2021, meaning the perception of this cohort as older workers is stabilising. Of interest, is that more HR professionals consider the 66-70 years group as older workers than previous surveys, up to 23%.
Consistent with the previous surveys, the four greatest advantages of hiring older workers are seen to be experience (85%), professional knowledge (71%), age diversity (41%) and reliability (25%).
The three greatest obstacles HR professionals say they face in recruiting older workers are a lack of applicants (32%), a perception that older workers lack the necessary tech skills (22%) and salary expectations that are too high (20%).
About the survey
The survey was conducted by AHRI and took place online between February 21 - March 28, 2023. There were responses from 297 HR professionals in Australian organisations.
About the Australian HR Institute
The Australian HR Institute (AHRI) is the national association representing human resource and people management professionals with 20,000 members from Australia and across the globe.
About the Australian Human Rights Commission
The Australian Human Rights Commission work to promote and protect the human rights of everyone in Australia, by ensuring access to complaints on discrimination matters, education, advocacy, monitoring and compliance activities.