Older workers subject to discrimination in the workforce: Research

Older Australians are being discriminated against in the workforce, with a series of reports revealing pervasive stereotypes about older employees are causing businesses not to hire older workers.

A study published last week by National Seniors Australia of more than 3000 Australians aged between 45 and 74 found a third of workers aged over 45 had experienced workplace discrimination because of their age.

The study also found 13% of respondents had been denied training, promotion and equal pay while suffering derogatory comments and having the feeling of being “forced out” of the workforce.

Of the respondents, 31% of retirees reported the mere perception that employers considered them “too old” has greatly influenced their decision to leave the workforce altogether.

Other research released last Friday by the Australian Human Rights Commission found negative stereotypes about older workers were pervasive in Australian workplaces and one in ten employers said they would not hire someone over the age of 50.

The human rights commission found 63% of small businesses with less than five staff agreed older employees were at a higher risk of being made redundant.

Of those surveyed, 29% of business decision makers also said older employees had a difficulty adapting to change and 22% said they did not expect older employees to have the same technical skills as younger employees.

M+K Lawyers principal Andrew Douglas told SmartCompany there are increasing numbers of ageing Australians remaining or looking to re-enter the workforce, as the global financial crisis caused many Australians superannuation savings to be “wiped”.

“Many still have families to try and support, or they’re just trying to find the last few dollars for their superannuation,” he says.

The human rights commission survey indicated 71% of Australians believed age discrimination is common.

The survey of 504 Australian businesses found workers above 65 feel ignored by corporate Australia and are forced to deal with the presumption they will have difficulty with newer technology.

When it came to younger people’s views of older Australians, it was found 43% believed older workers did not like to be told what to do by someone younger.

Douglas says these perceptions and hiring patterns are a concern because not hiring a worker because of their age is illegal and discriminatory.

“Look at the levers which drive a business. You want employees to be flexible, able to contemplate change and engaging in the most modern methods of technology and interactions – there are some real reasons why older people are struggling to find employment,” he says.

Despite this, research from Deloitte Access Economics has shown an increase of 5% of paid employment of Australians over the age of 55 would have a $48 billion impact on the national economy each year.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan said in a statement with the ageing population its “imperative” current perceptions and attitudes to older workers be changed.

“It is vital we recognize that the growth in the number of older Australians provides significant and very real economic and social benefits and opportunities.

“It is my hope that it will encourage constructive collaboration between media, advertisers and corporate Australia to present older Australians in a more accurate, balanced and diverse manner that reflect more realistically their value, capability and experience,” she says.

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