Older workers bring opportunities — but businesses need to know how to bring them to the fore

Carol Kulik, Opinion, The Advertiser
November 24, 2017

WHEN Australia’s age pension was introduced in 1909, just 4 per cent of the population lived long enough to claim it.
Now, the average Australian is expected to live 15-20 years beyond the traditional retirement age of 65 — and by 2050, nearly a quarter of our population will be aged 65 and over.
Clearly Australia’s ageing workforce is a reality that we cannot afford to ignore. But what can organisations do in order to benefit from this growing demographic?
For older Australians, the key here is choice. On the one hand, they’re physically capable of working longer, so they could stay in the workforce. On the other hand, they’re tempted by retirement so they can travel, spend quality time with family and friends, or pursue a favourite hobby.
Baby Boomers have an unprecedented option to extend their working careers beyond the traditional retirement age, and being the largest — and wealthiest — older generation ever, their motivations for staying in the labour force are dependent on the quality of support they receive from their manager.

So for organisations, the challenge is to adequately deliver just this.

To help you on your way, here are a few strategic tips for attracting, engaging, and retaining older workers in your organisation:

Plan for older workers to be front and centre
Have you reviewed the age profile of your workforce and your customers? Some industries like aged care and financial services rely heavily on older clients and customers but, as the population ages, older Australians will become a fast-growing segment across all industries.
To engage this growing demographic group, you can position your older workers in visible, frontline roles to connect with similar older customers, suppliers and stakeholders.
This sends a strong signal that your organisation values older people, making the business more attractive to both older customers and job applicants.

Listen up — or miss out
How much do you know about the changing needs of your older workers? If you’re to benefit from their experience, you may need to redesign jobs to match the changing physical and psychological needs of an older workforce.
Simple things, like losing the physical components of the job, or increasing their opportunities to engage with other people, can seem like easy adjustments, but unfortunately many older workers have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate such changes.
The consequence is an unhappy older worker, who, tired of being in a job that provides a poor fit, simply “retires”, only to return to the job market a few weeks or months later, with a different organisation.
Just like that, you’ve lost one of your most valuable resources — and when they exit, their skills and experience also go out the door.

Keep an open mind about who does what
Do you assume that interns are young? Do you think that managers should be older than the people they supervise? Traditional ideas about the right age for the right job are quickly becoming outdated, and organisations need to acknowledge this in order to get the most out of the workforce.
In the case of older workers, many are interested in “encore careers” that enable them to pursue opportunities outside their original career choice.
As an employer, you may be able to leverage this by offering older workers opportunities within your organisation, perhaps rotating across roles and units or retraining for different kinds of work.

And remember, keep an eye out for older jobseekers making a “sea change” in occupation or industry — they can bring transferable skills, such as budgeting or project management, and new perspectives to your organisation.

Carol Kulik is professor of human resource management at the University of South Australia

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