3 impacts of workforce ageism

Imagine being 55 years of age or above. Or perhaps you are in this age group and through unforeseen circumstances (e.g. redundancy or workplace age discrimination) you lose your job. As a mature age person, on average, it will take you 68 weeks to find your next job. If you’re over 50 and currently working, you have a 27% chance of experiencing age discrimination in the workforce. Workforce ageism. We’ll all be over 50 one day, so why is ageism so prevalent in the workforce? And why should we care?

Ageism

The word ‘ageism’, first coined by Robert N. Butler, M.D. in 1969, makes assumptions and discriminates against people based on their age. Underpinning ageism are age stereotypes. Age stereotypes include everything from attitudes and beliefs about a person’s behaviour through to notions about their likes and dislikes.

It is a fact that lifespans are longer today than at any other time in history. In 2050, over 25% of Australia’s population will be over 65. Yet, beliefs about what older people can or can’t do are based on an outdated and culturally reinforced idea of what it is like to be 55. As Dr Helen Barrie states in this short video, we’ve compressed morbidity. People are not only living longer, they are living in good health for longer.

Fact: Almost 25% of Australia’s population is over 55 years of age. Yet, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the workforce comprises only 16% of this age group.

3 impacts of workforce ageism

There are many implications of ageist recruitment, retention, and training policies within organisations. Organisations that practice ageism are missing out on:

  1. Enhanced knowledge transfer. Older people have skills and experience that are relevant – even in an increasingly digital environment. For example, communication abilities that can encompass conflict resolution; basic workplace etiquette; and, business networks that have been developed and acquired over many years. The movie ‘The Intern’ is a classic reminder of the value older people can bring to a workplace.
  2. Quality customer service. A contact centre comprising only of young people will typically have stereotypical views of older people. This gap between internal staff knowledge and insights about older people and the customer can and does impact customer experience. This was beautifully demonstrated by Judy Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
  3. Optimised product & service innovation and design. When there’s a poor representation of older people in an organisation there’s a risk that products or services are either:
    1. Not designed for older people; or
    2. Innovation is restricted by ageist perceptions, as is the case with the latest release of the Apple watch.

Longer lives are a gift. Addressing ageism in the workplace is overdue. However, with leadership commitment and perhaps a selfish motivation to change the situation for ourselves, a workforce without ageism is possible.


Three Sisters Group specialises in developing age-inclusive business strategies. Addressing ageism, age stereotypes, and removing biases associated with generational labelling are foundational to our work. If you would like to explore this further and learn about our survey that measures employee perceptions towards retirement, ageing, and work, contact us today.

 

Photo by Simon Wijers on Unsplash

Three Sisters Group at TEDx Canberra

“It’s time to look at where we want to go. To create a new future. A different future. A future that utilises and maximises this gift of longer lives.”

~Catherine Rickwood, TEDx Canberra 2018~

September was an exciting month for Three Sisters Group with our Founder, Dr Catherine Rickwood, stepping onto the red dot – the round red carpet that adorns stages for TEDx events around the world. Catherine’s compelling TED talk took us on a journey that questioned the long-held premise of retirement and how we currently live our lives – at a time when our lives are so long and becoming longer.

What are the implications of longer lives for organisations?

It’s crucial that organisations start re-imagining their workforce and create structures, policies and practices unbounded by existing age stereotypes. It’s time to acknowledge the impact of our ever-increasing life spans and challenge our current approaches to older workers and customers.

“Remove the invisible but fully present age ceiling in our thinking, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour about what we believe people can or can’t do based on their age.”

~Catherine Rickwood, TEDx Canberra 2018~

Why?

Because traditional views of ageing (ones of decline and decrepitness) no longer stack up. Imagination and innovation are limited by our outdated understanding of what it means to age. Today older Australians (aged 55 and above) are typically wealthier, healthier, more active and more technically savvy than previous generations. And, as Catherine says:

Planning our working lives to this end point in our sixties limits our potential and robs our world of knowledge, skills and experience that could contribute to positive social, economic and environmental change”.

 

What next?

Discover the revenue benefits and cost savings of building business and HR strategies that smash age stereotypes and eliminate ageism. Consider introducing one of these 3 strategies:

  1. Intergenerational job-sharing.
  2. Product innovation through co-design with customers of all ages.
  3. Communications audit of printed and electronic media. How are age stereotypes being reinforced?

More specifically:

Hiring managers and HR teams – have you considered the impact of enforced retirement age policies? What retraining opportunities exist for all staff and do you have a cross-mentorship program?

Product designers, developers and marketers – have you thought about diversifying the product offering to the over 55s? If so, are you treating the over 55s as one homogenous customer segment or developing products and marketing campaigns based on outmoded cultural stereotypes – like Apple?


ABOUT THREE SISTERS GROUP

Three Sisters Group specialises in working with organisations to develop age-inclusive business strategies. Addressing ageism, age stereotypes, and removing biases associated with generational labelling are foundational to our work as these issues limit creativity and opportunities.

Sought for her strategic skills, insights on longer lives, and as an informative and inspiring speaker, Three Sisters Group Founder and CEO, Catherine Rickwood, has developed a reputation as one of Australia’s leading experts on the ageing population.

Contact us to find out more about our services and/or to arrange a complimentary one hour consultation.