By Kate Southam
Employees aged over 60 take fewer sick days, are more adaptable and have lower turnover than other workers.
That’s the picture created by an analysis of aged care provider Bupa’s workforce where part timers aged 60 plus make up nearly 10 per cent of staff.
Bupa decided to carry out the analysis following the Federal Government’s announcement of a $1,000 bonus for organisations employing people aged over 50.
Many are questioning whether a bonus further stigmatises older workers or helps focus positive attention on age prejudice in the hiring process.
The bonus scheme starts from July 2012 and is available over four years to 10,000 employers but only if the 50-plus hire stays in the job for at least three months.
There are currently 7 million people in Australia aged over 50 out of the nation’s population of just over 22.3 million. The scheme forms a central plank of a $36 milliion Federal Government package to help older workers.
“We hope this new Government initiative will cause other businesses to also recognise the value of the older worker,” Bupa HR Manager Adam Bullock says.
“Almost ten percent of Bupa’s aged care workforce is over the age of 60 years and we are keen to add to the ranks of our older workers.”
“Looking at part time employees, the research found Bupa’s older workers valued their jobs and had a lower turnover rate as compared to younger staff.
“The older workers were also more reliable, with the 60+ age group taking fewer sick days compared to other age ranges.”
Alison Munroe of consulting firm Sageco told CareerOne.com.au that the government bonus would need to be easy for companies to apply for to make it attractive.
“If employers have to jump through hoops and end up spending more time and effort comparable to the $1,000 then it isn’t worth it,” she says.
Criteria would also have to be clear to ensure only genuine employers could access it, Ms Munroe says.
Monash University aging expert Philip Taylor has told media that similar schemes elsewhere in the world have failed. The Council on the Ageing (COTA) welcomed the measures but described the funds as "modest".
COTA chief executive Ian Yates says more investment needs to be made in older workers instead of dumping them on “the employment scrap heap."
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows the average duration of unemployment for 45-54 year olds is 52 weeks, rising to 75 weeks for those aged 55 and over, more than twice the average duration of unemployment for those under 45.
Productivity research estimates the cost of age prejudice at work costs the economy $10.8 billion a year. By the year 2050, 23 per cent of the population will be aged 65 and ready to retire. Today that figure is 14 per cent.
The bonus scheme follows the launch of the Corporate Champions program in 2010 for employers that invested in older workers but it is understood the scheme had a low take up rate.
The government commissioned a report, Realising the Economic Potential of Senior Australians, that it received last December but it is unclear whether many new insights were revealed.
Independent research shows older workers want part time options, greater access to training and a fairer assessment of their suitability when applying for jobs.
In an interview last October Bunnings boss John Gillam told The Australian why the hardware retail giant was such a big employer of older workers.
Bunnings has recruited about 2000 "team members" aged over 55 in the past five years, making the Wesfarmers-owned business one of the biggest employers of older Australians.
"We find they have patience and a depth of knowledge, and they love teaching the younger workers. The older workers generally command more respect," Mr Gillam told The Australian.
Bunnnings also places great emphasis on retaining older workers and has two employees aged in their 80s. The company would continue to employerecruit retirees bored at home or looking to top up retirement savings.
Mr Gillam says employers need to create permanent roles of 20 to 25 hours a week to best suit older workers.
CareerOne.com.au, April 2012.