CLUSTER PROJECT 10: 60+ AS A NATIONAL ASSET: ABILITY TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE ECONOMY: LABOUR MARKET POLICY AND FLEXIBILITY FOR OLDER WORKERS

Project Overview:

The overall aim of this Cluster Project is to draw on Australian, European and other international experience to produce better understandings of the relationships between age, the labour market and retirement. Its purpose is to inform public policy aimed at the prolongation of working life, the effective management of ageing workforces, and the reconciliation of personal and organisational strategies. The research will look into ageism and the social construction of older workers, as well as those with chronic conditions and/ or disability, and possible policy responses. It will also examine possible new patterns of retirement and later-life employment, including ‘bridge’ employment and its effect on well-being.

Principal Researchers: Professor Philip Taylor (Federation University) and Professor Robert Lindley (University of Warwick)

Outcomes:

This paper examines the evolving and competing ‘world views’ about older workers and retirement from a public policy and social advocacy perspective. It identifies contradictions and disjunctions within public policies aimed at changing employer behaviour towards older workers. We argue that serious flaws in the current representations of older workers provide a weak basis for policy development and potentially exacerbate prejudicial attitudes towards older workers in society. In addition, we argue that the issue of older workers’ employment should be examined within the context of mainstream labour market issues. Directing these workers towards market-driven mainstream programs recognises the negative attitudes towards ageing but avoids trapping older workers in employment placements sheltered from competition.

Summary | Working Paper

In industrialised nations, age discrimination is widely viewed as a serious impediment to older workers’ employment, and age discrimination policies generally focus on jobseekers and workers aged over 50. These policies appear not to consider other sociological factors that may influence older workers’ prospects or the experiences of younger   workers. To assess the limitations of this current focus, we examine the concept of everyday discrimination by conducting a survey of a nationally representative sample of working Australians. Our results indicate that discrimination was experienced by 25 per cent of respondents, but there was little evidence of age differences in the extent of experiences. We argue that there may be an overemphasis on tackling age discrimination facing older workers, which obscures proper consideration of barriers to their participation, and may entrench ageist perceptions among labour market participants.

Summary | Working Paper

Against a backdrop of population ageing and with it concerns about the future funding of social welfare systems and availability of labour there is increasing public policy interest in pushing out the final age of labour market withdrawal. Australian research also indicates that there is interest among employers in how to manage their ageing workforces. While there is a substantial recent body of literature concerned with workforce ageing this has yet to be thoroughly distilled for practical purposes. This paper considers the recent literature on older workers’ employment from the perspective of what can be learned that will inform the employment practices of Australian business. The report focuses on areas considered critical to the management of an ageing workforce: workplace culture; leadership; individual development; job design; health and well-being; financial and career planning. The report takes a critical stance, noting, for instance, that some of the management literature that purports to help increase employer capacity to respond well to workforce ageing is simplistic and unsupported by a solid evidence base and therefore unlikely to be very effective. Nonetheless, useful lessons for employer practice are identified.

Summary | Working Paper

This paper provides a practical guide to employing older workers based on the recent research literature. The ageing workforce will create major challenges for Australian employers. Forecast labour shortages will see competition for skilled labour increase greatly. Success will depend upon being able to attract and retain skilled older workers. The framework offered in this report provides practical, every day, guidance for managers in tackling workforce ageing issues. Actions business can consider identified in the guide include developing a workforce culture that does not discriminate against older workers, urging efforts from both top managers and line managers in supporting older employees, providing them with training, promoting worker health, designing jobs that fit their needs, offering sufficient recognition and rewards to workers, and assisting their financial and career planning.

Summary | Working Paper

Public policymakers, advocacy groups and commentators point to a gradual withdrawal from working life as having benefits for both employers and workers. This may lead to a number of later-life transitions, including reductions in working hours or changes in occupation. These raise questions about the experiences of workers when they make such transitions and how these fit in with other areas of their lives, including informal family caring, volunteering and leisure. It is important to understand these experiences in terms of their impacts on economic resilience and wellbeing. 

Summary | Working Paper