Ageism may still be rife in the workplace, but one Queensland employer is making a concerted effort to ensure the skills and experience of employees of all ages are respected and valued.
More than a third of the workforce at Wesley Mission Queensland is aged over 50, and 13.4 per cent are aged over 60, with the oldest employee approaching 89.
Director of people and culture at Wesley Mission Queensland, Steve Eltis, says even though Australia’s population and workforce is ageing, it seems there is still a long way to go before the value of older employees is fully appreciated.
Despite efforts to encourage Australians to delay their retirement and government incentives to recruit older workers, a recent study found there was still a level of reluctance to do so.
A joint research project between the Australian HR Institute and the Australian Human Rights Commission reveals that almost 47 per cent of employers said there was an age at which they would baulk at hiring someone.
It also found that the age at which an employee is considered ‘old’ is actually getting younger, with 16.9 per cent of employers classifying people aged 51 to 55 as an ‘older worker’ compared with 12.5 per cent holding that view in 2014.
The Federal Government’s recently released Intergenerational Report points to an ageing population and falling workforce participation rates, and predicts the current ratio of four working-age people for every person over 65 would decline to just 2.7 over the next 40 years.
With a growing number of baby boomers entering retirement age and nearly a quarter of Australians expected to be aged over 65 by 2060, it’s clear a change in attitude towards older workers is required.
Eltis says the ageing workforce is a global phenomenon that presents both challenges and opportunities, and Wesley Mission Queensland is actively pursuing strategies to retain its older employees.
“These workers make an incredible contribution to the services we provide and we introduced our ‘No Barriers’ program some years ago to encourage our older employees to remain with us as long as possible,” Eltis says.
The program gives workers aged over 50 the opportunity to reduce their hours or make flexible arrangements for their employment, understanding that their personal circumstances may change over time.
“The No Barriers program makes it clear that we want you to stay with Wesley Mission Queensland and to be engaged, contributing, healthy and safe at work,” he says.
“People are living and working longer and as an age-friendly employer, we are committed to creating a work environment that suits everyone.”
Clinical nurse, Vickie Stork, 67, began working for Wesley Mission Queensland in 1994 and had previously managed nursing homes in Toronto, Canada.
Her role has evolved over time and for the past 15 years, she has been job-sharing with another clinical nurse at aged care community Cooper House in Brisbane, working Monday to Wednesday and alternate weekends.
Vickie says she still loves the work and has no plans to exit her position any time soon.
“Having continuity of care is really important, I’ve always had a great rapport with the elderly and I know my residents and their families – I feel like I’m an extension of their family,” she says.
“The work is so rewarding and Wesley Mission Queensland is very supportive and compassionate. They have a lot of empathy for the residents.
“I’m certainly not ready to retire, I need the mental stimulation and enjoy the company.
“Maybe within the next two or three years I would consider cutting down a shift and Wesley Mission Queensland has always been very flexible about the hours we work. I think I’ll just play it by ear.”