Young people are most likely to be out of work in Australia, but older workers – over 55 – spend the most time between jobs: up to two to three years.
Older people are not the only cohort experiencing age discrimination in Australian workplaces, but I do believe as business leaders we’re missing a valuable opportunity to take advantage of this increasing pool of older, experienced workers.
Personally, I know of several colleagues from university who are in their mid-50s and have excellent experience and minds, but are finding it hard to secure meaningful roles.
Debunking the myths
There are plenty of negative perceptions around older workers and most of them are simply myths. The following comes from the federal Department of Employment’s best practice guide for recruiting and retaining experienced staff:
Diversity driving competitive advantage
As globalisation and digitisation drive competitiveness and reduce product differentiation, many businesses are asking: what’s our competitive advantage now?
Many are turning their sights inwards to the core of their business: people.
If products are becoming more competitive, and margins subsequently shrinking, how do we get the team driving those things to be more effective? One answer is team diversity and complementarity.
In terms of age diversity, a team can be strengthened by a ‘wise owl’ with years of experience, and it can also benefit from being tested by a ‘smart young thing’ with a new way of looking at problems.
Team diversity – different age structures, different capabilities, different appetites for risk, different approaches to problem-solving – all add up to better outcomes for a business.
Inflexibility not confined to older workers
Older workers are often perceived as being fixed in their views.
It’s probably true that we get more fixed in our ways as we get older, but younger workers aren’t immune from this phenomenon. We’ve recruited people who were very young in years – just out of uni – yet turned out to be incredibly set in their ways in some instances.
Inflexibility can be more a state of mind than an age issue, so watch out for it in all your recruiting.
How to encourage a flexible, learning and sharing culture
When recruiting any new staff member, including an older worker, you want to determine:
- Are they of a mind to continuously learn and improve and take on new ideas?
- Are they willing to debate and consider new ideas openly?
- Are they of a ‘giving’ mindset in the workplace? (To use a rugby league analogy, you don’t want someone who runs up the blindside with the ball under their jumper!)
One way we answer these questions is by structuring an activity for short-listed candidates – a type of ‘try before you buy’.
We put together an exercise akin to some of the projects we do and ask them to work with us on that activity prior to their employment.
Undertaking the activity is an investment on both sides: we get to see how they might respond in that situation, and they get to assess whether our way of working meets their own expectations and preferences.
Incentives to employ mature-aged workers
The Australian Government provides a range of wage subsidies to encourage businesses to take on staff, including older workers.
The Restart program offers a financial incentive of up to $10,000 to encourage businesses to hire and retain mature-age employees who are 50 years of age and over. Go to https://www.employment.gov.au/wage-subsidies for more information.
If you would like support or advice regarding staff recruitment, contact the team at JPAbusiness on 02 6360 0360 (Orange) or 02 9893 1803 (Parramatta) for a confidential, initial discussion.
James Price has over 30 years' experience in providing strategic, commercial and financial advice to Australian and international business clients. James' blogs provide business advice for aspiring and current small to mid-sized business owners, operators and managers.