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Report highlights challenges for mature workers and workplaces

13 December 2019
New study by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research
A new report has found mature workers across Australia feel excluded in today's workforce and have limited development opportunities and flexible work arrangements, compared to younger workers.

The researchers, based at the University of Sydney and Curtin University, conducted a national benchmarking survey of mature workers to understand how organisations might better manage and harness the benefits of an ageing workforce. 

Supporting employees who are balancing care responsibilities is an important issue for organisational growth with an ageing workforce.
Professor Marian Baird

The report shows that many mature workers currently do not feel included in the workplace with, for example, age-biased opportunities for skill development, a limited availability of flexible work that fully caters for workers’ individual needs and preferences, and a somewhat underwhelming degree of knowledge transfer amongst co-workers of different ages.

The researchers asked over 2,000 employees from more than 1,500 Australian organisations about inclusive work environments; individual strategies to adapt to physical, emotional and cognitive changes over the life span; and supportive workplace practices, such as age diversity and flexible work arrangements.

Access to flexible work key for mature employees

Co-author Marian Baird, CEPAR Chief Investigator and Professor of Gender and Employment Relations at the University of Sydney Business School, said the survey also asked employees about their access to flexible working arrangements.

“Significant caring responsibilities, such as the need to care for elderly parents or grandparenting responsibilities, have been identified as a key driver for mature employees to consider early retirement,” said Professor Baird.

“Supporting employees who are balancing care responsibilities is an important issue for organisational growth with an ageing workforce. As our working population ages and organisations strive to retain mature workers, greater flexibility in working arrangements will become increasingly important to support mature workers.”

Perceptions of age inclusivity in organisations’ policies

CEPAR Chief Investigator Professor Sharon Parker, from Curtin University’s Future of Work Institute, said the new research aimed to identify and develop successful work policies and practices that supported the attraction, retention and engagement of mature workers.

“With age diversity projected to continue to increase in Australian organisations, creating an environment in which all employees feel valued and respected regardless of their age will become increasingly important. This will in turn benefit not only organisations as a whole, but also teams and individual employees,” Professor Parker said.

The researchers found that workers of 55 to 64 years of age, as well as working men older than 65, especially perceive their organisations’ policies as less age inclusive than younger workers.

Image: Perception of all age-inclusive HR practices. Credit: CEPAR MWOS Industry Report 2019.

According to the report, failure to create an inclusive work environment is likely to result in mature workers leaving their organisation early, and less likely to be engaged in their work. When employers provide motivating opportunities, such as fair access to promotions and training, both mature workers and their younger counterparts benefit.

The research challenges some common age stereotypes. More than 90 percent of mature employees aged over 65 years surveyed reported they actively try to develop their capabilities.

Image: Employee reported adapting to change. Credit: CEPAR MWOS Industry Report 2019.

Professor Parker said that given the misconception that older workers are less adaptive than younger individuals, the report explored the adaptability component of individual performance in more detail.

Findings offer hope for mature aged workers

The researchers asked employees to report on the extent to which they feel that their employer supports the use of flexible working options as well as their previous access to flexible arrangements. The survey responses indicate a discrepancy between the support that employees feel their organisation has for flexible work and actual reports of access to flexible arrangements.

Professor Baird added that elder care and grandparenting leave options are inclusion strategies that organisations should utilise to enable mature workers to participate in the workforce longer.

“As the mature workforce continues to grow, these options are likely to become a higher priority for mature job seekers and therefore provide a competitive advantage for organisations aiming to attract high performing employees,” Professor Baird said.

Professor Sharon Parker said that the report offered hope, adding that women who have remained working beyond the age of 65 had largely positive experiences, with higher reports of inclusive, individualised and integrative work practices.

“The actions taken by the organisations employing these women have created positive and age-supportive organisational and managerial contexts. These findings show that it is indeed possible to create positive work and workplaces for mature workers, and we hope to see such situations emerge more widely,” Professor Parker said.


About the Mature Workers in Organisations Survey

M-WOS (Mature Workers in Organisations Survey) is a longitudinal multi-level study that includes over 2,000 mature workers. Most existing longitudinal research on ageing focuses on individuals within households, whereas M-WOS is unique in Australia in its organisation-based approach.

About CEPAR

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) is a unique collaboration between academia, government and industry, committed to delivering solutions to one of the major economic and social challenges of the 21st century.

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