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5 corporate lessons about Australia's ageing workforce

For the first time in history, 2019 will see four generations of Australians employed at the same time, and according to positive ageing advocate Marcus Riley, we need to make the most of it.

As our demography continues to shift, a key imperative will be to prolong paid workforce participation, and with that comes significant responsibility for corporate Australia, said Mr Riley, who is the director of Global Ageing Network and an advocate for positive ageing.

"Ageing workforce rhetoric has widely discussed policy implications – the cost of healthcare and impacts on the social welfare system, retirement savings and the broader economy – but important aspects of the ageing workforce have as yet been largely omitted," he explained. 

"The onus will fall on organisations and their leadership teams to adopt older worker-friendly policies in order to survive this transformational period, and it's essential corporate Australia are ready to adapt."

"People are going to be working later in life for a number of reasons. People are healthier, living longer and generally more educated than ever before – all contributing to an increase in their likelihood to stay in the workforce," he outlined.

"This, coupled with likely changes to social security, pension entitlements and employee retirement plans, along with the necessity to save more money for retirement, creates incentives to keep working."

As such, corporate Australia needs to be willing to embrace the challenge and opportunity of an older workforce, he said, and shared his five key considerations for those in the corporate space to adapt to an ageing workforce:

1. Less people are going to retire at 65 

"Money may well be the root of all evil, but it also is a factor on whether or not we age well," said Mr Riley. 

"Our newfound longevity means that instead of having to provide for ourselves for a decade or so after retirement, that period is now extended, often by as much as 20 or 30 years. As a result, people are either remaining or re-entering the workforce well beyond the official retirement age of 65. Hardware giant Bunnings' workforce, for example, includes staff aged from 15 to 80 with nearly a third of employees aged over 50."

"Companies need to be aware that people are going to be looking to stay employed or seek new employment opportunities in their 70s, 80s and sometimes even their 90s," he added.

2. Need to foster wellness of the ageing workforce

"Older employees are going to be needed across the workforce and within all types of business, companies and institutions. Therefore, it is essential for organisations and industries to guide workforce wellness."

"Such investment will pay dividends for companies as older workers prove to be reliable, so investing in their health and wellbeing is good business practice," he said. 

3. Workplace flexibility isn't just for university students and parents with school pick-ups

While older workers are maintaining their preferred lifestyles, he mused, they may not wish or need to work full time hours but remain willing to use their skills and expertise. 

"Employers should offer flexible arrangements to accommodate workers who may have other commitments due to family or community roles, just as they do for university students that need study leave and parents with family commitments," he said. 

"People adapting to evolving industries, changing careers or re-entering the workforce may require training, a refresh of technical skills and knowledge which should be supported by organisations to harness the capacity of such a prospective workforce."

4. Mentoring roles will become invaluable

As people are more frequently changing jobs and moving across industries more regularly, mentoring becomes essential in businesses of all types, he posited. 

"Younger graduates may have the theoretical qualifications but will regularly lack the practical experience to uphold professional responsibilities," he said. 

"Employers of choice are continually searching for competitive advantages to attract and retain good people, a mentor who can offer professional and life experience certainly adds value for staff beyond their salary." 

5. Age-based discrimination is going to need to be addressed

"Recent data indicates that one in five working older Australians [has] experienced workplace age discrimination. Many more [people] report great difficulty in regaining employment after time out of the workforce as well as being prematurely forced out of employment," he noted.

"The exclusion of older workers will come at a huge cost, affecting productivity, developments, progress of industries as workforce requirements increase over coming years." 

"Relatedly, society cannot tolerate the impact on individuals through discrimination and ageism given the consequential impacts on health, economic and other societal factors. It is unacceptable to have such prejudice continue unchecked. Policies and practices to prevent age discrimination must therefore be enforced in workplaces as we've seen with inter alia gender equality," he added.

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