By Sue White
Employers struggling to fill positions may do well to listen to the University of South Australia’s Professor Carol Kulik – making small changes in the workplace could help retain the older workers they already have, for longer.
Over the years, Kulik and her colleagues have conducted hundreds of interviews with mature-age Australians about work. One of the questions they’ve investigated is what helps healthy workers nearing retirement age resist the temptation to leave paid employment. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not only the offer of flexibility.
“It’s something about the job itself,” says Kulik.
Researchers have found that several simple actions can help people stay in work longer. These include: eliminating a specific task that is too physical (or no longer enjoyable); allocating more time to the tasks older workers find more meaningful (such as mentoring or working directly with customers); or taking a different approach to flexibility.
“Many organisations have designed flexible work around the needs of parents, [focusing on] shorter hours, but the older worker might want flexible work that allows them to travel more, for example, taking off bigger chunks of time in a year,” Kulik says.
Older workers also care a lot about feeling supported by their managers.
“It’s the healthy older workers with low manager support who exhibit the most increase in retirement intention,” says Kulik of recent research published in the Journal of Organisational Behaviour.
‘By sharing their knowledge, skills and life experiences, our older team members often become great mentors to their younger teammates.’Damian Zahra, Bunnings chief people officer
One organisation that understands the value of older workers is Bunnings. Thirty per cent of its store workforce are aged over 50; 14 per cent are over 60.
“We learnt a long time ago that these team members play an integral role in creating a great place to work and providing our customer the best experience,” says Bunnings chief people officer Damian Zahra.
“They often have significant life, industry and trade experience, which makes them a wealth of knowledge for both our customers and wider team.”
To ensure age is not a barrier to employment, Bunnings adopts a flexible recruitment process, which includes accepting resumes dropped off by walk-ins (good for the non-tech-savvy), job ads on in-store posters and videos featuring stories of some of its long-tenured team.
Flexible rostering and tailored support are part of a retention strategy, and younger workers are regularly encouraged to turn to older colleagues for advice.
“By sharing their knowledge, skills and life experiences, our older team members often become great mentors to their younger teammates,” Zahra says.
KEEPING OLDER WORKERS IN THE JOB
- Older workers are more likely to stay in paid employment if they feel supported by their managers.
- Small changes such as reducing the physical demands of a task can make work a lot more appealing for an older worker.
- Older people job hop far less than younger workers.
When it’s time for a Bunnings worker to retire, a “Retiring Well” program provides a tailored pathway that includes options for a gradual reduction in hours over time and advice on how to enjoy financial, emotional and physical wellbeing in retirement. Given that older workers are often some of the most productive in the workforce, Kulik believes organisations with proactive policies in place will reap rewards.
“The research emphasises that ageism isn’t just about denying older people access to jobs. Ageism is also about expecting older people to do jobs in exactly the same way, at exactly the same pace, as younger people,” she says.
While Kulik says we are starting to shift some stereotypes – for example, by featuring older workers more often in advertising – progress could come much faster with an attitude change.
“To speed up change, we need managers to recognise the value of their healthy older workers, and accept that even the healthiest of older people need some accommodation. Often that accommodation is very minor and low cost. But it does require some flexibility on the part of employers,” says Kulik.
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Source: Thanks smh.com