Fostering age diversity in your workplace
In this part of Work45+ we cover:
All workplaces are different, and older people are as individual as people of any other age. This means there is no single recipe for creating a business that can reap the benefits of age diversity.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) recognises that certain strategies will be better suited to large businesses than time-poor smaller enterprises.1 However, it also notes that small businesses have come up with some of the most innovative approaches.
Below are actions that will help you create an age-diverse workplace where older workers thrive.
First tackle ageism
True age diversity is impossible in a workplace where there is ageism.
“Ageism is the stereotyping and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age; ageism can take many forms, including prejudicial attitudes, discriminatory practices, or institutional policies and practices that perpetuate stereotypical beliefs.”
– World Health Organization2
Ageism is the opposite of age equality. Anyone can experience it and it’s always unacceptable.
In workplaces, ageism often takes the form of discrimination against older workers.1 Yet it’s frequently overlooked or unconscious. This may be because it can potentially happen to all of us one day, unlike discrimination against a particular gender or race.
In academic terms, ageism has become “institutionalised”, meaning many people who practise or overlook it in the workplace don’t even realise they’re being prejudiced.
Ageism is not only evident in the hiring practices of some organisations (see our web page “Age equality“). It can also influence decisions about who to train, who to promote and who to retrench. And it can be heard in jokes and language that stereotype older workers in ways that are not supported by the evidence (see our web page “Benefits of older workers“).
To avoid ageism in the workplace, we need to make age equality the norm. To do this, organisations should help all staff feel as if age equality is part of business culture – “the way things are simply done and have always been done”.3
This is more likely to happen when:
- staff of all ages feel they make a strong contribution and are valued because of their experience rather than their age
- hiring practices clearly draw from all age groups
- new recruits are put in positions that make the most of their potential, regardless of their age.3
The following video from EveryAGE Counts is simple, short introduction to ageism and how to avoid it.
Create a checklist
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has identified specific practices that will help create a workplace where older staff feel welcome and valued.5
- Review attitudes towards employing mature-aged workers
for bias and ageism.
- Dispel myths and misconceptions with evidence.
- Have a commitment to change and implement sound
policies and practices to assist in recruiting and retaining
mature aged workers.
- Have an holistic human resource strategy of lifelong
education and remedial measures, which can be effective
in avoiding intergenerational conflict.
- Promote cultural change in the way that the community
perceives mature-aged workers.
- Encourage early involvement of mature-aged workers of
any policy changes.
- Review the organisational culture to ensure it benefits the
business as a whole and employees whatever their age.
- Identify alternative jobs or flexible work arrangements.
- Introduce age-awareness training for HR personnel,
managers and other key personnel.
- Remove ageist barriers in language, processes and
policies that might hinder retaining or recruiting mature
Equal Opportunity Tasmania recommends adding the following to your checklist:
- Have workplace policies that make it clear that age discrimination is prohibited.
- Consider anti-discrimination training for employees.
Take a life-course approach
The concept of a life-course approach is a good way to summarise a range of practices that promote age diversity in the workplace.
According to COTA Tasmania, a life-course approach “considers the individual’s socioeconomic and personal circumstances across their lifespan and supports them in a way that acknowledges opportunities for:
- skills development
- work flexibility options
- job role modifications
- health and safety support
- retirement or career transition.” 4
We suggest starting your discussion about the first four of these during each new employee’s induction, as recommended in the video below.
Lead by example
Drawing on a wealth of national and international research, COTA Tasmania has found that leadership is one of the key attributes of workplaces where older people are more likely to thrive.6
Workplace culture is profoundly influenced by the actions and values of owners and managers. Other staff will take their lead from the language you use when you talk to, and about, older workers and job seekers. The policies and practices you introduce to dispel stereotypes and ensure equal opportunity for staff of all ages will gain credibility from your open endorsement and implementation.
It is also important to be aware that staff are adept at identifying tokenism. If you model respect, goodwill and consistency yourself, it is more likely that these attributes will become defining features of your workplace. Once that happens, you will start to build trust among older workers and a reputation as an age-friendly workplace.
In the following video, HR specialist Dianne Underwood and Career Options Tasmania’s Anne Kirby-Fahey discuss the importance of leadership in creating a workplace where all ages thrive. They begin by examining key aspects of induction before explaining that successful cultural change starts at the top.