Employers are paying a high price for having a closed-minded attitude towards the benefits of hiring older workers, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Age Discrimination Commissioner has warned.

Dr Kay Patterson AO said when older applicants were overlooked for job vacancies, both employers and those seeking to work were left disadvantaged.

“It means employers lose access to a ready-made talent pool, and older people who are willing to work lose the chance to contribute their talents to the workforce, life satisfaction, and financial security,” she said.

Dr Patterson’s comments, which were published in Human Resources Director, come in response to a new survey that showed that around one in six organisations in Australia have admitted that they will not consider hiring jobseekers aged 65 and above, despite the country experiencing significant recruitment challenges.

The results are in

The findings were included in the 2023 Employing and Retaining Older Workers Survey, which sought the responses of nearly 300 HR professionals across Australia to determine their attitudes towards older workers.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Australian HR Institute (AHRI), found that only a quarter of those surveyed said they are open to hiring a jobseeker aged 65 and above “to a large extent”.

Meanwhile, around one in six (17 percent) of HR professionals said they actively exclude people from employment by reporting that they are not open to hiring people aged 65 and over “at all”.

 Decade versus decade

Writing in the report, AHRI chief executive officer Sarah McCann-Bartlett said official data shows that from the mid-1990s through to the pandemic, the participation rate for people aged 55 years and over had been increasing in Australia. In fact, the workforce participation rate for people aged between 55 and 64 years increased from 44.8 percent in February 1995 to 69.4 percent in February 2023.

“However, in a significant shift, the growth in the number of older workers in employment has slowed significantly over the past year. While employees aged 55 and above currently comprise almost a fifth (20 percent) of the Australian workforce, this age cohort accounts for just 4 percent of the growth in employment levels in the twelve months to February 2023, despite the historically high levels of job vacancies,” she said.

 A beneficial multi-generational workforce

McCann-Bartlett said organisations stand to benefit from a multi-generational workforce in many ways through harnessing the strengths of different age groups.

“If employers and governments can maximise the potential of older workers as part of an age-diverse workforce, this could help drive more diverse workplaces, reduce employee shortages and strengthen Australia’s economic performance.”

However, as far as Patterson is concerned, employers just need to “shift their perspective”.

“Diversity is good for business – and that includes age diversity. This means the smart employers are providing workplace cultures which are attractive to employees of all ages, including the rapidly increasing number of workers who are over 55 years of age,” Patterson said.

“Employers who lead by example and embrace age diversity will reap the rewards in terms of productivity, innovation, problem-solving and workforce stability.”