Supporting the Work Health and Safety needs of Australia’s ageing workforce

12 Nov 2020

Supporting the Work Health and Safety needs of Australia’s ageing workforce

Social, economic and employment policy may not be changing swiftly enough to address the pressures created by a population that is ageing, particularly with respect to older worker health and labour force participation.

A survey of medium to large businesses and organisations in Queensland was conducted, between November 2018 and February 2019, to better understand the beliefs and practices of Australian employers about older workers. 1017 responses were received, mainly from managers, across a broad range of industry types.

Results show that almost half the respondents consider someone aged 60 years to be an older worker, increasing to 60% considering that someone aged 65 is an older worker. Most respondents believe workers are too old for full time work by age 65. Most respondents disagree or were neutral on common negative stereotypes of older workers but tended to agree with many stereotyped positive characteristics of older workers, suggesting organisations are aware of the benefits of hiring and retaining older workers.

While organisations are anticipating the need to make changes if their workforce shifts to include more older workers, very few have clear plans or policies for doing so. Although they are concerned about labour shortages, most organisation do not appear to be considering strategies to attract and retain older workers. A large proportion do not appear to have comprehensive strategies for managing work health and safety for their overall workforce, let alone specific strategies for older workers.

Guidance is readily available on strategies to support the work health and safety of older workers. Organisations who adopt these strategies are experiencing higher levels of job satisfaction, decreased absenteeism and turnover, and increased engagement among older workers, as well as greater inclusiveness, improved attitudes to older workers, and greater awareness of the needs of older workers among their broader workforce.