AustralianSuper has partnered with workplace experts Transitioning Well to investigate what support older workers need as they think about transitioning into retirement. The project, Ageing Workforce Ready (AWR), provides support to businesses and workers navigating the last years of their working life.
If you’re in your late 50s, 60s, 70s or older, the knowledge and experience you bring to the workplace adds unique and unmatched value. But the AWR project has identified that older workers are often overlooked for promotions, and even stereotyped, based on their age.
Australia’s population is getting older. This is likely to create both challenges and opportunities for organisations. So significant are these changes, the CSIRO has named the ageing workforce as one of 6 ‘megatrends’ in occupational health and safety over the next 20 years. Despite this, many Australian companies have been slow to engage with the realities of an ageing workforce.
Recognising stigma attached to older workers
The Ageing Workforce Ready project lead is Rachael Palmer. Rachael says incorrect stereotypes fuel the stigma against older people at work.
‘The common thinking is that older workers want to work part-time, take more sick leave, cost more to employ,’ she says. ‘But that’s not the case.’
‘We’re a culture in love with younger people, which often fails to include older workers who are battling stereotypes.’
Research by the University of South Australia shows stereotyping older workers is rampant. Professor Carol Kulik undertook research into more than 600 mature workers aged over 45 across Australia in a wide range of jobs1. She says stereotyping is real.
‘(Workers) were very conscious of their age,’ Professor Kulik says.
‘They were afraid that managers and co-workers might have negative stereotypes about their age group, and they worried that their own behaviour might accidentally confirm those stereotypes.’
Stereotyping was most common in 3 situations:
- when older workers reported to young managers
- when young co-workers surrounded them
- when they worked in manual occupations.
‘People who experience stereotype threat feel extra pressure to perform well, making work more stressful and a lot less fun,’ Professor Kulik says. 'Eventually they disengage and feel less involved and a lot less enthusiastic about their work.’
Professor Kulik says both workers and organisations suffer when engaged workers don’t perform to their full capability and can cost an organisation 30% of their salary in lost productivity.
But she says high-performance practices that focus on training, reward good performance and encourage participation in organisational decisions can boost older workers’ well-being. Workplace alumni programs are also gaining popularity. These allow retired workers to continue contributing their experience to the workplace. This benefits the retired worker and younger teams.
‘Adapting the right management practices may be the key to ensuring that mature age workers contribute to the organisation long past the traditional retirement age,’ Professor Kulik says.
5 tips to manage your career before retirement
Take part in any workplace volunteer days your organisation might run. This can offer the chance to discover future hobbies or volunteer opportunities you may want to continue during retirement.
2. Take advantage of training opportunities
Approach your employer and see if there’s any training you could do to develop new skills and learn new programs and ways of working. Not only will this help your employer, it could also help build confidence in new areas.
3. Communicate with your manager
Have a conversation with your manager or HR team (if there is one). Ask them about accommodating any medical or physical needs you have. This can help them support you to be safe in your workplace.
4. Share your experience
Investigate opportunities to mentor your colleagues. This can help your experience get the recognition it deserves. It can also make sure your skills get passed on to newer members of the team or industry.
5. Review what you need from work
Many people find their needs change as they think about transitioning to retirement. You may want to consider decreasing your hours or days of work over time to ease into retirement. There are options with most super funds to also access part of your super as you transition out of the workforce. For more information visit Transition to Retirement.
Ageing Workforce Ready project
The project website has free resources for you and your employer to help you navigate and the transition from worker to retiree.