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Unfortunately, there are still some workplaces in Australia where ageism exists. While discriminating against a person due to their age has been illegal in Australia since 2004, in practice it still occurs. Although employees can be discriminated against if they’re perceived by employers as being too young, the majority of ageism is against older Australians.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world, ranking 7th among OECD Countries. In the last 100 years, the life expectancy of Australians has increased by about 20 years. The average life expectancy for males and females is now at 82.8 years.

Now that we are living longer and healthier lives, many older Australians wish to remain in employment beyond the traditional retirement age. The legislation around retiring has also changed. As of July 2021, the age you are eligible for the Age Pension has gone up to 66 years and 6 months.

A recent report into ageism by the Australian Human Rights Commission has indicated that ageism in the workplace is still a significant problem in Australia. It states that “when it comes to the workplace, age discrimination can occur at the point of recruitment, as well as in relation to opportunities for training, promotion and flexible work practices—it can also affect how strategies around retirement are approached.”

It’s important for businesses to ensure their workplaces are inclusive and supportive of older employees. Companies and recruiters that are responsible for the hiring and retaining of employees should consider whether there are any underlying stereotypes or policies that may be discriminating against older employees. 

Tips for Combating Ageism in the Workplace

1. Diminish unconscious bias

We all have unconscious bias to some degree but fortunately there are now great training programs to help prevent age-related prejudice occurring in the workplace. It’s a good idea to have training protocols in place for all staff, but in particular those responsible for employee hiring and development.

2. Provide flexible work and retirement options

Many older employees would prefer to ease into retirement. Part time positions and job share roles are a great way to assist in this, as well as working from home options and better workplaces environments. Companies that are open to these arrangements will benefit from retaining the knowledge and experience of older employees.

3. Training and development
Older employees should not be excluded from training and development programs. More often than not, employees of all ages are interested in growing their skills and staff development benefits the company.

4. Long service award and recognition

The experience of long-term employees is of significant benefit for companies and loyalty deserves to be rewarded. Consider whether you have structures and incentives in place to recognise and reward the long service of staff. 

5. Cross-mentoring

Cross-mentoring is when an older and younger employee mentor each other in different areas. This can be hugely beneficial as it acknowledges the different skill sets the different generations are likely to have and ensures they are learning from one another. 

A thriving multi-generational workplace benefits the economy, businesses and individuals. With our ageing population and the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic factors such as superannuation and housing, it’s more important than ever to support and encourage older Australians in the workplace.