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Adapting to the needs of Australia’s ageing workforce

People are living longer and life expectancy in developed countries has increased by more than half over the past century. As a result, there are more older Australians in the workforce, but a new study suggests much more is needed to support those who choose to stay employed longer.

In Australia, about 25 per cent of the population is aged over 55 and this is likely to increase to one third over the next 10-20 years. By 2060, 50 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women aged 64 or older will be employed.

But how well are Australian organisations prepared for this shift? Are Australian employers committed to hiring older workers and are they supporting those workers as their requirements change?

WHSQ partnered with the Australia National University and Safe Work Australia on a study as part of the Working Longer, Keeping Healthy and Staying Productive research project. The study is seeking to address the emerging issues of an older workforce.

The research team surveyed management perceptions of ageing workers in over 1000 medium and large organisations. They looked at what systems and practices organisations currently have in place to address health and safety and any benefits realised from these. To get as much data as possible, ANU incentivised participation in the survey through a prize draw with the winners being Caboolture Denture Group.

Preliminary results indicate organisations are aware of the ageing workforce and their older workers' health needs, but they acknowledge the need for action – and that little has been taken so far. Key findings of the survey include:

  • Nearly a third of respondents indicated 65+ is the age at which someone would be too old for full-time employment in their industry. 16.4 per cent of respondents put the age at 60 and 22.4 per cent felt it was 70+.
  • Only 15 per cent of respondents reported their organisation has a strategy in place to attract, employ and retain older workers.
  • Around half reported they have measures in place to support transition to retirement and re-skilling or are currently considering these.
  • Most organisations do have general health and safety strategies in place, but very few have then tailored these to address specific needs of older workers.
  • Around half of the organisations are ready to adapt their policies and strategies, but most do not have a clear plan.
  • Organisations seem to be sufficiently resourced to undertake this work, but there is little concern at the executive level for the implications of an ageing workforce.

What can you do to retain and support older workers?

Communicate with senior leaders about the implications of the ageing workforce and share information on the benefits of attracting and retaining older workers. Consider what strategies you currently have in place to meet the work and health needs of older workers.

A good start would be to review your organisation's efforts in areas such as health, safety and wellbeing programs targeted at different age groups, as well as job design, reskilling and retraining and occupational rehabilitation. The review could include flexible work arrangements, strategic workforce planning, work scheduling, ergonomics and human factors, and transition to retirement.

Further information

For further information, visit: http://rsph.anu.edu.au/research/projects/working-well-working-wisely