Becoming an Age Friendly Employer

February 23, 2012

I had the pleasure of attending a very informative “Becoming an Age-Friendly Employer” presentation by Geoff Pearman from Staying On recently.

I was aware, like most, we have an aging population and we need to start addressing this from an attraction and retention perspective.  As I said, I was aware of this, however Geoff clearly highlighted this issue is bigger than what we are placing importance on now and if don’t start taking it seriously, we are going to see further resourcing difficulties.  I’m speaking with a lot of different employers throughout industries, sizes and geographical location and most haven’t even brushed the concept of addressing the main issue in the age priority – that of course being around our aging population.  Failure for any organisation to start addressing this soon, will mean that you will unfortunately be several steps behind the progressive employers who are years ahead of building and implementing an age-friendly strategy.  The interesting element I found here is that, unlike a number of workplace issues, we are actually aware this is coming and we have the benefit of taking action now… however so many are not.

As Geoff also highlights the age issue isn’t just about our older workforce, but it’s considering and engaging all generations in this conversation.  I interviewed Geoff after the presentation as I was particularly intrigued to discover more about what employers can do and to understand this issue further.

  • What are some of the biggest mistakes employers are making in terms of addressing the age challenge?

       “Probably 4 as a starter

    1. Not addressing the challenge from a strategic and business perspective
    2. Staying in “old paradigm” thinking, still seeing individualised interventions as the solution
    3. Fixating on older workers and age – we need to be age friendly across the life span. You can’t disentangle age from gender, ethnicity etc
    4. Paralysis by analysis. You can over research the issue and fail to act with the urgency that is required to be an industry leader. The companies age friendly story (based on evidence) needs to simple, compelling and one everyone “gets”.”
  • In your opinion, what are the key statistics that HR professionals need to be present to their Executive team that the age challenge is real and that action is required now?

“Firstly I am not sure that HR is best placed to present the statistics that are going to get the attention of the executive. I think they have a role, but if you look at the business and commercial risk you need a sponsor who will champion the business case and bring together not just people data but also financial and customer data. On statistics, what I would say is that many cite average age, a waste of time; look at the percentage of staff over 50, 60 and segment it by occupation, locations etc. Look at your unplanned leave, cost of workers compensation etc. Understand your inflow and the supply of new labour. Be aware that your retirement trend line will be unreliable given the number of people turning 65 this year has increased by over 18%. Past performance is no indicator of future performance (sounds like an investment statement).”

  • There are a range of working arrangements already in place by employers to support their staff throughout various stages of their lives, for example job sharing, grandparent leave, paid parental leave, phased retirement (as much I know you don’t use that word!) etc.  Are you seeing any new trends emerging to cater for a specific age or flexibility needs?

“I think we need to talk more about flexi options i.e. when we work, how we work and where we work. We can get too rigid about particular forms, what I want to see is a flexi culture where customised options can be generated that work for the individual employee and the employer at different life stages. This requires flexible thinking. In recent NZ research they found that 87% of employers who had flexible work arrangements said that they are having a positive impact, giving business reasons such as improved productivity, staff retention and recruitment and morale.”

  • What specific initiatives are age friendly employers doing to attract external candidates based on their age friendly culture?

“Early days yet for too many to be claiming they are age friendly and having this as part of their EVP. Innovative flexi options have to be there, access to learning and development across the life span, health and wellbeing programmes, social responsibility programmes are part of the mix. Companies talk about diversity and inclusion.  The challenge is becoming the inclusion part, creating a culture that is inclusive of 4-5 generations.“

  • What are the biggest risks if employers don’t start talking and taking action around the age topic?

          “There are a number of risks

    1.  Labour shortages, they will be scrambling as boomers exit and there isn’t the replacement labour market they once relied on
    2. Escalating worker compensation costs
    3. Disengagement, loss of productivity and turnover
    4. Intergenerational resentment in the workplace”
  •  What are the critical actions employers must do right now to remain competitive and be age friendly?

“I could be presumptuous and say let’s talk. The reality is old models and approaches are generally not working for companies or for their employees. First up the Board and Executive have got to engage with the challenge strategically, understand the business case, the age wave dynamic and their risk profile. From there they need to design and lead a change and organisational development process that creates an age friendly culture.  This requires innovative leadership, policies and programmes. “

I look forward to hearing from employers and understanding how they are tackling this important topic.

To contact Geoff or for additional information regarding becoming an age-friendly employer, visit  www.stayingon.com.au.

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