Older workers cry foul over employers’ age bias

  • Stephen Lunn, Social Affairs Writer
  • From:The Australian
  • January 30, 201212:00AM

EVEN for this story, David Bickett won’t give his age. Mr Bickett says he’s in his 50s, but as someone who has been recently active in the job market, he knows the dangers of being more specific.

“It’s one of those things you dread at job interviews, when the age thing comes up because you know it will be seen in a prejudicial light,” he says.

Returning to Australia after a four-year stint in Britain specialising in sales and marketing for a telecommunications company, Mr Bickett has spent the past 12 months looking for work here.

“When there is a face-to-face interview, when the employer sees you, there has often been comments along the line of ‘Maybe you won’t fit into our culture’. No one will blatantly say, ‘You’re too old’, but the feedback is quite consistent,” Mr Bickett says.

His experience gels with research released today by the Financial Services Council showing three in 10 older workers (aged 50+) have experienced some form of discrimination, redundancy being the most frequently cited example.

They also say they are denied training opportunities, subjected to verbal abuse and have requests for flexible working arrangements ignored. Most affected were employees in the middle-ranking range, earning about the average wage of $70,000 a year.

The bias against older workers has serious economic ramifications given nearly half the 500 employees surveyed said they were worried about the amount of superannuation they were likely to have on retirement.

The study, Attitudes to Older Workers, conducted by research group Westfield Wright, also interviewed employers, finding they admitted to a gulf between their acceptance of the qualities of older workers — “a safe pair of hands”, “easier to manage” and the continued practice of opting for a younger workforce.

“The research revealed that corporate Australia still persists with a bullish one-size-for-all mentality — full-time or nothing,” the report concludes.

Among workers too, there are attitudinal barriers to overcome. Men were found to be less willing to accept a drop in pay or perceived status, even as they expressed a desire for more flexible working arrangements.

FSC chief executive John Brogden says society must undergo the same sort of revolution in terms of accepting older employees remaining in the workplace as occurred for women.

“Employers really need to begin to understand that it’s perfectly OK to have people in their 70s in an office, particularly given what they bring to the table,” Mr Brogden told The Australian.

The report notes more male than female employees report being discriminated against on the basis of age, and Mr Brogden says older male employees need to be prepared to compromise in order to stay on in work.

Mr Bickett, who is studying for a Masters in Business Coaching and is preparing a start-up consulting business, lays some blame for the difficulties of older workers at the feet of recruitment consultants. “There are recruitment consultants half your age asking what you’ve got to offer. They’re on the phone talking to you about possible roles, but they’re thinking ‘He’s as old as my dad’. That shouldn’t be a negative.”

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