How mature aged workers can be supported by businesses

| August 19, 2020

Australian businesses have been very slow to embrace activities geared to the needs of an ageing workforce. This is a missed opportunity that, in the long run, will be costly to employers and to society.

In 2011, the Australian Industry Group with the support of the Australian Government published a guide as a one-stop guide for employing people aged 45 years and over in Australia. It is for owners and operators of small to medium-sized businesses and staff from businesses of any size who are responsible for developing and implementing human resource policies and practices.

So how can mature aged workers be supported by businesses and managers?

Redesign jobs to accommodate physical needs

Even the healthiest worker will experience age-related declines in speed, physical strength, hearing or vision that could impede performance. The JobAccess website provides a comprehensive ‘workplace adjustment tool’.  This tool provides hints and tips on making all types of activities

performed in the workplace easier to perform.  Examples are adequate lighting, level floors free of obstructions, ergonomically designed tools and machinery. Giving a mature-age worker more control over when or how to do their work and eliminating or reassigning some physical components of a job can make a big difference. Positive age-management practices can also significantly extend the working life of valued employees.  These tools should also be considered for younger workers too as work-related illnesses often have their roots in earlier phases of working life.

Create opportunities to meet psychological needs

Mature workers frequently become more concerned with personal relationships and express more interest in developing other people. These psychological needs can be met at work through cross-generational programs that enable a mature worker to share their experience with younger workers e.g. mentoring and reverse mentoring. The Australian government ten years ago did have a program called ‘Golden Gurus’, a national program that connected individuals, community organisations or small business owners in need of mentoring support to a mature age mentor.

Another strategy is redeployment that involves moving workers from one location or activity to another. Redeployment is particularly useful if a staff member’s priorities have changed or if they no longer wish to climb the career ladder. Instead they may be looking for a role with less stress, new challenges or greater flexibility for work-life balance.

Redeployment is an effective way to retain committed staff and maintain ‘corporate knowledge’ gained from time within the business. Redeployment provides opportunities to use workers’ skills and expertise in different ways, and this may help you explore new business opportunities.

Flexible work practices

Positive work practices, including the provision of flexible work arrangements, can foster loyalty and reduce absenteeism, which benefits the organisation as a whole.  ‘Flexible work practices’ covers all the innovative ways employers and workers can agree to structure work to accommodate business and individual needs. Examples are part-time work, job-sharing, tele-working, flexible-work hours, and flexible leave provisions.

One example that is often not considered but should be is phased retirement.  It can be a key retention strategy for valued workers nearing retirement. Phased retirement allows staff to reduce their hours or level of responsibility rather than making an abrupt departure on retiring from the organisation. The worker gradually moves into retirement, while businesses are able to capitalise on their skills and corporate knowledge for longer.

Australian employers have been slow to engage with the realities of an ageing workforce.  Mature-age workers say they would have worked “forever” if they could have negotiated specific – and often very small – changes in their role.  Businesses are slow to embrace activities geared to the needs of an ageing workforce. This is a missed opportunity that, in the long run, will be costly to employers and to society.

How does your business support mature workers?

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