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Age discrimination backfiring on employers

Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti
28 October 2019 4 minute readShare
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Despite being illegal, it seems that many employers are still discriminating against workers based on their age. And they are doing so to their own detriment, it has been suggested.

Speaking at a recent Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) event in Sydney on ageism in the workplace, Frank Ribuot — CEO of recruitment firm Randstad in Australia, New Zealand, South-East Asia and India — said that many employers believe recruiting older workers will mean higher turnover and higher rates of sick leave.

However, he said that, in reality, the reverse is true.

“When you actually employ people of the age of 50 and above, what you do find is that it’s 2.4 times [longer that] they stay with you than the younger generations,” Mr Ribuot said.

“Very often we talk about attrition, and how many of us are facing attrition issues and... how can we keep people here, and in the same sentence, we say ‘Let’s not employ people who are too old, because they might not have all the skills’.

“I think we really need to change the paradigm in the way we think. And I’m the first one, by the way, to actually want to recruit more people of an older age, because if I do that, I know I can keep them longer than the average worker who starts.”

The same misconception, Mr Ribuot said, exists around sick leave as age increases.

“The assumed implication of having an older workforce is that they will be sick longer and more often,” he said.

“What you find when you look at the stats is actually exactly the opposite: they are sick a lot less, and they will be at work with you most of the time, and they will not be taking their sick days as annual leave, which will happen quite often with our young generation, where sick and personal leave at times become [seen as] an entitlement as part of your annual leave days.”

Ageing population adds to problem

Mr Ribuot said that employers are also making it increasingly difficult on themselves to be able to recruit new staff by overlooking older workers, given the ageing population and the volume of older workers in the workforce.

“By 2050, I don’t know if you realise, but 22 per cent of the workforce in the OECD countries will be over the age of 55 — that is an increase of 250 per cent on what it is today,” he said.

“When you take into consideration the ageing workforce, and people having less kids in the developed countries, that will actually generate a lot of people who today are considered ‘mature’.”

Australia differs from other countries

The recruitment boss suggested that Australian employers collectively could be better at employing older workers, taking inspiration from across the Tasman.

“What is interesting when you look at Australia and New Zealand is... in New Zealand, three-quarters of the people over 55 actually have a job, and New Zealand rates as one of the top three countries around the world for mature workers,” Mr Ribuot said.

“Australia, in that context, only ranks as number 17 in the world ranking of the OECD countries, which is a bit scary considering the size of our economy and how rich a country we are and how many opportunities are in the marketplace today.”

However, he said that Australia compares well when contrasted with other countries throughout Asia.

“In Australia, we think it is pretty bad here, but if you go and work in [parts of] Asia... when you get past the age of 45, you’re almost, kind of, irrelevant when you start looking for another job,” he said.

“People look at you as someone who is really old, and you have a big issue about looking for your next career [opportunity].”

Another stark point about the difference about Australian attitudes compared with those overseas relates to what jobseekers are seeking most.

According to Mr Ribuot, the issue of work/life balance comes out more strongly in Australia than pretty much anywhere else in the world.

“Every year, we do an annual survey of over 150,000 people [globally] to check... what jobseekers are looking for in the workplace. And everywhere around the world, long-term employment outcomes rank really high, salary and benefits rank really high,” he said.

“But the only two countries in the world where that doesn’t score first is Australia and New Zealand.

“In Australia and New Zealand, the thing that ranks first is work/life balance.”

At the same event, Professor Lucy Taksa from Macquarie Business School’s Centre for Workforce Futures said that generation-based labels — Baby Boomers, Millennials etc. — are having a damaging effect on productivity, as pervasive stereotypes restrict opportunities for work, force people at both ends of the age spectrum into less secure employment and inhibit co-operation between intergenerational teams.

Businesses also overlooking over-50s in marketing

Meanwhile, a separate report suggested that it’s not just in employees where Australian businesses are overlooking people.

Creative company WPP AUNZ polled 2,500 Australians aged 50 to 79 years, and a further 1,500 New Zealanders of the same age group, about their experiences and responses to business marketing.

It then contrasted the findings with 1,000 Aussies and 500 Kiwis between the ages of 25 and 34.

The poll found that despite accounting for the highest wealth and disposable income, over-50s are — or at least feel like they are — being overlooked by businesses.

If the figures were reflected by the broader population, the research suggested, over-50s in Australia collectively spend $40 billion more than either Millennials or Generation X every year on consumer goods purchased through e-commerce channels.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the research found that this age group also spends an average of two hours a week more online than their younger counterparts.

Yet some 94 per cent of over-50s said they dislike they way organisations communicate with them, while the agency’s chief strategy officer, Rose Herceg, said that less than 5 per cent of client briefs to market specifically target people over the age of 50.

“More than a quarter of all Australians are over 50, they have 46 per cent of our disposable income, and 50 per cent of our private wealth and yet it’s almost impossible to find organisations and brands that understand this high-value audience,” she said.

“This is all the more startling when you consider the unrivalled opportunity that lies in their enormous purchasing power.

“It appears that marketing has an ageing blind spot — and as a result, many may be missing out on a significant new target.”

Age discrimination backfiring on employers
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Adam Zuchetti
Adam Zuchetti

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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