How to support the health, safety and wellbeing of your ageing workers.
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How this helps your business
Research shows that almost 20% of Australian workers are aged 55+ with this figure continuing to rise (OECD, 2018). It is now more important than ever that your workplace creates a culture free of discrimination that supports your ageing workers.
Older Australians are not only a critical part of the economy but a critical part of workplaces.
Unfortunately there are many myths, stereotypes and beliefs that negatively affect ageing workers. In fact, a workplace culture that supports diversity and inclusion including actively supporting ageing workers see many significant benefits which not only benefit your employees but also the workplace, resulting in reduced staff turnover, less skills shortage and reduced physical and mental injury to name a few.
By taking action to support your ageing workers your workplace is developing a diverse and inclusive work environment.
Key stats and facts
Workers aged 60+ years take fewer sick days.
BUPA, 2012, Transitioning Well website
Mature age employees can save costs to employers and boost the economy.
National Senior Australia, 2012, Transitioning Well website
Of Australian workers aged between 55 and 64 have experienced ageism.
Australian Human Rights Commission, Key Findings OECD, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
Learn more on this topic
An ageing or older worker cannot be specifically defined by just age itself. It can however, be used as an indication, with most research outlining those aged 50 to 55 years old and older fall into this category (The Ageing Workforce, The University of Melbourne, 2016). Generally, these workers have been in the workforce for decades and have a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience, which is valuable to the business. Other factors to consider in addition to age is the individual's health, the breakdown of the workplace and the roles performed, as well as their thoughts and feedback to their ongoing tenure or retirement plans.
However, it is important to note that these are individual factors that may impact anyone at any time during their working life, just that it is likely to be more relevant to workers around this age group.
Sadly, ageing workers are at an increased risk of discrimination, and this occurs when a person is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities as others in similar situations, due to being too old or too young. This can be either through direct discrimination or indirect discrimination.
For example, direct discrimination could be when a person of a particular age is selected for redundancy simply because of his or her age, while indirect discrimination could be if a workplace requires an older person to meet a physical fitness yet, if that fitness standard is not required for the role.
There is legislation in place in Victoria (Equal Opportunity Act 2010) and at a national level (The Age Discrimination Act (ADA) 2004) to stop age based discrimination in the work place.
The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment and the workplace on the basis of age which includes all stages of work, including the:
recruitment and selection
employment terms and conditions
training and development
promotion and transfers
termination of employment
To find out further information on what are your requirements as a workplace, click on the Fair Work resource card below. Watch this short 3 minute video to gain a better understanding of ageing workers in Australia.
Mature-age worker engagement
A workplace that supports their ageing, mature and older workers can have a positive impact not only on overall productivity but also on workplace culture. However, if the risks to your ageing workers are not managed well there can be a range of negative consequences that can not only harm your employees but the business too. This can include things such as:
loss of experience and knowledge
skills shortages in labour markets
premature exit from the organisation
person-job fit mismatch
age discrimination and bias
safety, mental health and compensation claims
health and caring issues
Ageing Workforce Project, 2020
Organisations that implement, support and foster a workplace free of discrimination can see multiple positive impacts such as:
positive organisational culture
social maturity, perspective and interpersonal skills
Now that you have a greater understanding of not only the importance of your ageing workers but also your legal obligations it is time to review your workplace information.
Completing a thorough review of your information can provide an indication of how you are supporting your older workers. Get some of your colleagues involved to help collect the information. This could include:
the age profile of your workplace
training and personal development offerings
use of flexible working arrangements
workplace recruitment and progression of employees over the age of 45
absenteeism rates by age
Employee Opinion Survey data (EOS) data by age
fitness for work practices
transition to retirement plans if applicable
Complete the Mature Age employment self-assessment tool on page 7 of the Investing in Experience Tool Kit which is based on best practice benchmarks. These results in addition to the information collected above will highlight areas of improvement for your workplace.
Consult your staff
After completing step 2, you should now have a better understanding of not only your workplace practices and information, but also which of your employees fall into this category. This information can help you identify if there are any work factors that may be negatively impacting older workers. It is important that you speak to your employees to find out more about these, and if they are experiencing any discrimination or unfairness in their day to day activities. There are many ways you can talk with, and begin to support your employees around this. This can include:
one-on-one discussions with your managers and employees
toolbox talks, production meetings, staff meetings or through any other channels your organisation uses to communicate
as you casually walk around your workplace with your staff
through your health and safety representatives
through your health and safety committees
For more information about how to consult with your employee please refer to the WorkSafe consultation guide below.
Now that you have identified some areas for improvement it is now time to take action. Choose 2 or 3 strategies you can get started on straight away.
To help your workplace record your strategies use the Action Plan template on page 12 of the Investing in Experience Tool Kit below. This can help your workplace clearly identify the strategy, the actions involved, and those responsible for making it happen.
Here are some strategy ideas that your workplace could implement:
Flexible working arrangements
Implement flexible working arrangements or reduced working time as an option, ie offer utilisation of leave entitlements to reduce their number of working days/week but retain their overall wage as they transition to retirement (Fair Work Act 2009 below).
Recognise the knowledge and skills of your mature workers by creating a mentoring/buddy program, This encourages knowledge sharing between younger and older employees helping to up skill both groups in a non-threatening way along with added benefits of increasing social support.
As people age there will always be changes in physical and cognitive abilities. Giving employees the opportunity to raise changes to their physical and cognitive abilities along with utilising a job task analysis (JTA) checklist will assist in proactive risk management and prevent work ability impacts. Other prevention measures may include eyesight and hearing tests, providing more suitable ergonomic equipment, minimising excessive physical demands, suitable amount of breaks and break duration to avoid fatigue. For fatigue management concerns check your dashboard on how you can address fatigue in the workplace.
Financial Information Sessions
This can not only assist your older workers, but can also be relevant to your younger staff for their own interests or those who may be supporting older family and friends through the transition. Contact your superannuation provider, many funds will provide information sessions to their members. Centrelink can also be approached to speak to groups on access and eligibility for the pension.
Providing opportunities for development reduces the likelihood of skills shortages and also shows a sign of commitment from your workplace to support your employees. Make sure the opportunities can be accommodating to the unique needs of your older workers.
Transition to retirement programs
Consider running training to upskill and provide valuable information to your relevant employees. For more information on planning for retirement discussions read page 20 of the Tool Kit resource.
Diversity and inclusion policy
Continue to create a culture that is supportive of all your employees.
Review your induction processes and position descriptions. Ensure the processes are fair and just and that inherent job requirements are clearly stated.
Consider community service/volunteer leave entitlements for all staff. This can enable a sense of meaning / purpose and establish identity with another role and social support/interactions.
Review and keep improving
Once you have chosen your strategies, you should review their progress at regular intervals to ensure the project or initiatives are on track making notes on where you could improve. Gathering feedback from involved employees is a crucial part of ongoing improvement and project success.
A change in workplace demographics, especially an increase in older workers, can result in generational differences in the workplace and create a larger focus on supporting your employees. So it is important to review training and supervision arrangements, policies, procedures and strategies regularly to ensure they are working well and as intended.
Use the following resource from Guarding Minds at Work to help evaluate your strategies. Review WorkSafe's consultation guide for more information on when consultation is required, this resource can be downloaded from Step 3 above.
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