Do business better: The next normal needs older workers

The fallout from the global pandemic is reshaping the way in which people of all ages work. More people are working from home than ever before and many companies have had to adapt their business models.

Industries such as tourism, construction and hospitality have seen mass layoffs, particularly across groups of younger and older workers. In the current environment, we have seen COVID-19 fuel a rapid growth in the number of 51-65-year-olds who have lost work or had their hours cut.

COVID-19 does not seem to impact everyone equally, and there is a risk that the perceived vulnerability of older people will result in increased ageism. Whether the underlying factors are health, industry or simply age, we can already see employers questioning whether older people are good for business as we navigate this pandemic.

The Australian Human Rights Commission reports that mature-aged workers in an organisation contribute to increased productivity, greater innovation, access to a larger talent pool, and improved customer engagement. Looking at these results, there are many reasons to support the general perception that “older workers are good for business”, even in the wake of a pandemic.

1. Workforce planning is a long-term endeavour. It would be shortsighted not to hire older people on the sole basis that they are more susceptible to risks associated with this particular virus. When conducting workforce planning, a wide range of factors need to be considered, including future business strategy, the pool of talent available to recruit from, the current workforce capability, as well as workforce locations, seasonality and external pressures. Businesses do better when they think creatively about how to meet the workforce needs over the short and longer term.
2. The next disruptor may be different. We do not know what the next disruptor looks like – perhaps another pandemic or something quite different. Whatever it is, we do not know who will be most vulnerable to it. Businesses that create diversity in their workforce will be better positioned to act whatever comes next.
3. Discrimination is still illegal. In Australia, we have discrimination laws which prevent businesses discriminating against employees or potential employees on the basis of their age. Therefore, when businesses are recruiting and selecting staff, their date of birth should not impact whether a person is hired or not. Recruiting is best done on merit, using validated assessment tools, and hiring the candidate who meets the criteria set out for business success. As businesses adapt to these unprecedented times, it is important they do so with discrimination laws in mind.
4. Diversity improves business outcomes. There are many benefits to having a diverse and inclusive workplace as numerous studies have demonstrated. A study by Deloitte showed that employee engagement was positively associated with increased diversity and inclusion, while research by Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams, across gender, age, nation of origin, career path, industry background and education had 19 per cent higher innovation revenues, compared with companies with less diverse management teams.

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen firsthand the importance for businesses to be age diverse. Organisations need a mixture of age demographics to be ready for whatever new surprises the future may bring, and will disadvantage themselves if they only employ workers of a certain age. Just as there are benefits of having diversity in gender and culture among employees, there are also benefits of having age diversity.

The Ageing Workforce Ready (AWR) project is developing practical resources to support organisations to attract and manage older workers. The resources build on Transitioning Well’s Ageing Workforce pillars practices – Recruitment, Retention, Retirement, Roadmap – which provide a guide to assessing and improving the work environment for older people.

Older workers can bring maturity, insight and wisdom to the workforce, which we all benefit from. With more ‘life experience’ than many younger people, they may have been through transitions that equip them to better deal with the current COVID-19 impacts. So when businesses start hiring as the economy recovers, they need to think strategically about workforce diversity and how to create an advantage through hiring people of all ages.

Rachael Palmer, organisational psychologist, Transitioning Well

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Article by Rachael Palmer on 29 April 2021 at

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