There is a harmful workplace bias that appears to be going unnoticed – and it could be costing your business.
Ageism against older workers continues to be a largely unacknowledged issue within the workforce. Extremely skilled professionals with a long history of loyalty to their company are being pushed out of their jobs once they reach a certain age.
In a society where people are now, on average, living 10 years longer than generations of old, why is it still acceptable to let go of senior staff members despite them being perfectly competent at their jobs?
Senior workers – the perfect scapegoat
In a study conducted by AARP, more than half of those aged 50+ reported having witnessed or experienced age discrimination in the workplace; namely by companies soliciting creative ploys to ditch older employees. This included:
- Job elimination (an excuse for what really is age discrimination)
- Targeting older workers for write-ups and incompetencies
- Cutting or reducing job duties/hours
- Denying promotions
- Workplace isolation and harassment
So, why are businesses so eager to get rid of their senior staff? There appears to be a couple of reasons.
For one, employers are anticipating their older staff to retire, and are eager to take on a younger worker to fill their spot. Secondly, a layoff is a convenient way to cut overhead expenses.
Both reasons are unfortunately steeped in unconscious bias. There’s this view that once a person reaches a certain age then they are planning to leave the workforce. However, more seniors are choosing to delay their retirement plans to continue working.
There are also those seniors who want to re-enter the workforce but struggle to get an ‘in’. This is because there’s still a lot of prejudice towards older job hunters and a perception that older workers are not as technically or physically competent to perform their job duties.
Such barriers are not only putting older people at a disadvantage, but also the companies who refuse to hire them.
Your business needs senior staff
Failing to have a plan to retain senior staff could see your business facing critical staff shortages in coming years. This is especially so for small to medium-sized businesses, as losing a valuable worker is harder to bounce back from than a large firm that can absorb these losses more easily.
More than two in five seniors (45.0%) think the next big thing for Australia’s over 50s is continuing to work later in life on a part-time or casual basis. The reason? Continuing work gives them a sense of purpose and fulfilment in life. So how can businesses cater to their aging employees and help play a role in breaking down negative stereotypes?
- Attract older applicants
Hiring? Create a job advertisement that specifically targets seniors or highlights the fact that you are open to applicants of all ages. You can also partner with support groups or networking groups that link senior job hunters to your business.
- Give senior staff security
As workers approach retirement age, they are likely to grow more concerned about their job stability and security. Reassure your senior staff that you want them to stay as long as they want to continue working for you.
Set up mentoring programs between younger and senior staff members to further work towards a diverse and inclusive workplace where staff of all ages feel welcomed and supported.
- Offer flexible schedules
Retain older workers and those approaching retirement by offering flexible working hours. For example, they can work in-office two days a week and work three days from home. Or, if your business is reliant on seasonal work, you can arrange your retiring workers to work only during peak days or the high season.
- Provide free training
From in-house training to online courses or community college, you can provide your senior staff with adequate training to help them upskill and keep on top of industry changes. A lot of senior staff members find it difficult to navigate technology in the workplace. And instead of giving them the right training, employers let them go or simply leave them to their own devices. But by giving adequate training, your senior staff are more likely to stay in their job longer and be even more productive.
- Place staff where they fit
As an employer, you want to place your senior staff in a position where they are most likely to be successful and productive. Determine their strengths and capitalise upon them instead of chastising them for their perceived weaknesses.
Be a force against age discrimination
Age discrimination in the workplace is real. Whether businesses are conscious of it or not, they need to adopt strategies to challenge stereotypes and retain aging employees.
Not only can age discrimination damage positive working relationships and alienate older workers, it can also damage your business and reputation.
Seniors have a wealth of knowledge, skills, and competencies, and should be valued as equally as their younger co-workers. Now more than ever, seniors are spending more time in employment and are also seeking part-time or casual employment in their retirement.
As a business, supporting senior workers will not only enable people to remain economically productive, but it will also improve workplace culture. You will consequently find your business will become more inclusive, innovative, and profitable – setting the standard for others to follow suit.