Workplaces are dynamic, not static. Older workers are not a homogeneous group; each is a unique individual with strengths and weaknesses. Older workers can have a positive impact on the workplace and work outcomes when their background and skills are matched to the task at hand. There are demonstrable financial and personal health benefits, particularly mental health benefits, which potentially lead to reduced public health costs. And the positive impact of workforce reliability and stability of older workers on the ‘business bottom line’ should not be underestimated. More needs to be done to improve workforce participation of older workers.
- Public policy initiatives are required, such as strengthening age discrimination legislation which currently has little impact, increased training and re-skilling opportunities to increase employability. Incentives and strategies targeting tax and superannuation to discourage early retirement and encourage older workers to stay in the workforce and assist older workers back into the workplace.
- Private sector organisations need to develop and implement comprehensive workplace strategies that capitalise on the skills, knowledge and capability of older workers; and match older workers capabilities with relevant areas of organisational need.
- Older workers need to demonstrate a willingness to listen, learn and adapt to flexible workplaces, younger bosses, and their own changing roles within the workforce, embrace the technological challenges, mentor younger workers, relish the work/life balance of reduced hours, and the health and financial benefits of continued work.
Older people need to work, and workplaces of the future need older workers. The key is sound public policy, public and private sector collaboration, and inspirational leaders who rise to the challenge, embrace employee diversity and realise the potential of flexible workplaces. With the ageing population and skills shortage, attributing common characteristics to all older workers and negative stereotyping is counterproductive. We need to celebrate the advances in public health contributing to this longevity and capitalise on the benefits that age and experience bring to society in general and the workplace in particular. The media plays an important role in countering these negative attitudes and stereotypes.