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Ageism in the Aussie workplace – are we missing out?

Capable, adaptable and practical, over-50s are an asset to any workplace.

As part of our ongoing national research into uncovering the transformative experiences that Australia’s Baby Boomer demographic are currently negotiating, Australian Seniors Insurance Agency surveyed 1,000 Australians about employment after the age of 50. And the results might both surprise and galvanise…

Consider this: more than one in three people over-50 (35%) have no choice but to apply for new work or embark upon a career change later in life – half of them because they need the money. So, factoring in what we know about Western culture and its tendency to marginalise those who are no longer in the rosy-cheeked ush of youth, this statistic is all the more of a concern. Why? Because, even at a glance, the results of our survey over whether ageism is a factor in attempting to re-enter the workplace are quite disheartening. Perceived or otherwise, nearly half of all Baby Boomers surveyed (47%) feel age discrimination is behind why they may have been rejected for employment. Not only that, but over a third (36%) talked themselves out of even applying for certain roles because they believed they wouldn’t even be in the running. This could also be why 60% of those surveyed admitted re-employment required overcoming certain obstacles – and in fact, over a quarter (27%) described those barriers as “signi cant”. For example, nigh on half of over-50s (49%) said nding a new job took them over six months, while one in ve (22%) struggled for over three years before landing work.

Even once Baby Boomers do score that elusive gig, the ageism doesn’t necessarily end there. Nearly a third (30%) report experiencing discrimination over their age while at work – for example, 21% of over-50s express annoyance at obvious age-based prejudices over their capability to perform certain tasks or roles. The reasons most cited for this age discrimination is that Baby Boomers are seen as either overquali ed (45%), they somehow lack the right “company t” (30%) or that they aren’t tech-savvy enough (24%). Not only that, but even within such a potentially stultifying
work environment, 42% of over-50s feel trapped in their job. Why? Because they have genuine fear that their opportunity to swap careers or to climb the ladder have long since passed them by.

So that was the bad news. The good news is that, in the real world, Baby Boomers present any potential employer with not only a lot of value but also excellent opportunities to enrich and balance the skill-sets of their younger team members. For example, amongst those surveyed, while only 9.8% saw over-50s as being strong in their technical skills compared to 26.9%

for Gen Y employees (a statistic that perhaps isn’t that surprising), the Seniors de nitely won out over the Millennials when it came to other desirable workplace attributes – i.e. ranking higher in their general people skills, in their ability to collaborate and work within a team, and in their aptitude for innovation and solving problems.

Part of why over-50s might also be regarded as an asset to any contemporary workplace is that business experts now believe communication and collaboration to be key drivers in any successful business – and sure enough, Baby Boomers predilection for communicating face-to-face as opposed to email, telephone, Skype or chat software is something of a bene t. In fact, when it comes such subject matters as personal issues, performance feedback, difficulties or support issues, and even complaints, the split of over-50s who will elect to talk to someone in the flesh over other means of communications ranks in the 80-90 percentile – compared to Gen Ys, who are usually much more content with email and phone (even for personal issues and problems). This preference for upfront face-to-face communication stands Baby Boomers in good stead.

Whether it’s on account of the fact that the Baby Boomer generation have experienced a succession of major political, cultural, sexual and technological upheavals over their years is hard to say, but a general adaptability is also seen as a virtue of older employees. Not only that, it is actually the Gen Y worker who professes to disliking change in the workplace most: 64% of Millennials ticked the “I hate any form of change at my job” box most compared to only 56% of over-50s. And sure, while it’s a general truism that over-50s might be type-casted (either by themselves or others) as being slightly technologically handicapped – 77% of those surveyed admitted to being slower at embracing new tech skills, versus 91% of Millennials who tend to pick them up much faster – Baby Boomers are actually more likely to seek out new training opportunities to address these and other shortfalls. Whereas only 27% of older workers fessed-up to avoiding learning new skills, slightly more of the younger employees (31%) said they also dodged doing additional training wherever possible.


Another reason to reconsider older employees is a debunking of the myth they are less productive because of health issues. Statistically speaking at least, Baby Boomers are actually three times less likely to use most of their sick leave each year than Gen Ys – and in fact, Millennials throw twice as many sickies compared to Baby Boomers each year (6 days vs 3 days per year).

In order to understand the opinions, thoughts and behaviours of over 50s in Australia, the Australian Seniors Insurance Agency created the Australian Seniors Series, a research project conducted for seniors, by Seniors. The Australian Seniors Series explores topics such as co- parenting, modern living arrangements, technology and more.

Stay tuned for the third instalment in the Australian Seniors Series, coming soon. For more insights on the modern Australian Senior visit and, to be the first to hear about our research on seniors, by Seniors, like our Facebook page.

About the author

Alana Lowes

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