Forced retirement should get the axe

| October 29, 2020

Getting pushed out of a job simply because another birthday has come and gone is far too common in workplaces across the country.

It imposes significant negative consequences on older employers – and is no good for business.

Although the Age Discrimination Act (2004) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of age, forced or mandatory retirement ages are surviving both formally and informally in some sectors and in some specific roles.

On the formal front, Australian Defence Force personnel must retire at 60 while reservists must call it quits at 65.

Federal judges are required to retire at 70 while those in the judiciary in our States and Territories are officially unshackled from their schedules between the ages of 65 and 72.

And if you are a partner in a professional services, accounting or law firm, there is a chance an unofficial policy exists that will see you marched out the office door and into “retirement bliss”  somewhere in your 50s or 60s.

Attempts to push older workers out the office door prematurely do not end there. There are many sneaky ways bosses try to make older workers “go away”.

Job elimination, denying further promotion, cutting out access to ongoing training, removing key job duties, forcing a reduction in hours, regular encouragement to retire and allocating menial tasks are part of the repertoire of forced retirement – and potentially discrimination – that some bosses dish out in workplaces.

Some bosses even try to force retirement through applying measures that effectively isolate older employees. This might include cutting older workers out of important meetings and social gatherings or asking them to work in isolated areas of an office so that they lose contact with their colleagues.

In many cases, a combination of removal-type tactics is applied to increase the chances of an older worker announcing their premature departure.

But by far the most sinister tactic used to expel older workers from the workplace involves unfairly targeting performance.

Increasingly, older workers with otherwise impeccable performance records are suddenly told their work standards have dropped to concerningly low levels – even when nothing has changed.

In those cases, an employee might be trying to put pressure on an employee to retire or gearing up to make a case to show an older worker the door.

Part of the push for older workers to exit arises from a view that those who overstay their welcome are denying lower-paid younger workers opportunities, particularly at a time when youth unemployment is high.

However, this reasoning does not cut the mustard given the benefits that maturity and experience bring to a workplace.

There are good reasons why mandatory retirement ages have been progressively phased out over the past three decades.

For a start, mandatory retirement ages are based on irrational stereotypes or ageist views about older workers.

Those labels include that older workers are technophobic and resistant to change, have lower levels of energy, are unable to learn new skills quickly and are generally less innovative and creative.

There is also the erroneous view that older workers take more sick leave, are unfit and physically slower and more prone to injury.

Yet ask most older workers and they will be quick to tell you that age rarely equates with job performance.

The reasons for allowing employees to choose their own age to exit the workplace go well beyond a set of flawed assumptions about what older workers can and cannot do.

Being compelled to leave a job because you have hit a certain age can have a seriously detrimental effect on an older worker – emotionally and economically.

There is a growing awareness, for example, that with many of us living longer the income required for retirement might not be adequate. While once we planned for a 10 to 20-year retirement, these days a 30-year period is not uncommon.

We therefore need to allow those who are able to work into their senior years to continue so they can support themselves rather than be a burden on an already stretched social welfare budget.

Many older workers also rely on the workplace as a primary source for their social connection and friendships. When they are forced out of their jobs, especially when they have been in the same workplace for a long time, they lose their connection.

And let us not forget what many older workers bring to the workplace, including a strong work ethic, loyalty, advanced communications skills and years of experience that cannot be easily replaced.

Everyone in the workplace is entitled to be judged as an individual. And if someone is able to perform competently into their 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s, they should be allowed to hang on to their job.

The bottom line is that it is time for our workplaces to come of age – and end forced or mandatory retirement for our older workers.

How does your business support mature workers?

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