Addressing age bias in the workplace



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We need to change the paradigm on how we think about age and generational stereotypes in the workplace, Randstad Chief Executive Officer (ANZ, South East Asia, India), Frank Ribuot, has told a CEDA audience.

Speaking in Sydney on generational biases, changing corporate expectations and how to best accommodate an ageing workforce, Mr Ribuot discussed how Australia is faring on a global context.

“The topic of work/life balance is something that comes out particularly in Australia, and way more than we see anywhere else around the world,” he said.

“Every year we do an annual survey of over 150,000 people to check what job seekers are searching for in their workplace and everywhere around the world, long term job employment comes high, salary and benefits comes high.

“The only two countries in the world where that doesn’t score first are Australia and New Zealand, and in Australia and New Zealand their scores are the highest with work/life balance.

“By 2050, 22 per cent of the workforce in the OECD will be over the age of 55, that is an increase of 250 per cent compared to what it is today.

“When you look at Australia and New Zealand, in New Zealand three quarters of people over 55 have a job, and New Zealand’s rate is in one of the top three countries around the world with employment of mature workers.

“Australia in that context, only ranks as 17 in the world of OECD countries, which is a bit scary considering the size of our economy and how rich a country we are and the amount of opportunities we have in the market place today.”

Mr Ribuot said that with the economy predominately made up of small to medium sized enterprises, there is little assistance provided to retrain or reskill mature workers, yet many businesses also deal with attrition issues.

“The fact is that when you employ people aged 50 and above, they’re 2.4 times more likely to stay longer with you than the younger generation,” he said.

“We talk about attrition and how many of us are facing attrition issues, how can we keep people here, and yet in the same sentence we heard not to employ people who are too old because maybe they don’t have all the skills – I think we need to change the paradigm and the way we think.

“How do we build a more diverse and inclusive culture within our organisations? How do we uncover bias?”
Macquarie University Co-Director, Centre for Workforce Futures, Professor Lucy Taksa, said that binaries and dichotomist thinking about age and generational groupings are harming employees.

“It has quite negative implications for the workplace and for society as well. They influence employment career opportunities and also how people relate to each other in the workplace and more broadly,” she said.

“A researcher from Germany from the institute of occupational science, this woman had conducted several studies of millennials and she concluded that most of the stereotypes hold no water, what she said was this generation, like any, is a very heterogenous group that cannot be boiled down to a common denominator.

“Generational differences and divisions conceal what people share, what they have in common.

“We hear constantly in meme like fashion that young people have a radically different attitude to work than their parents and that they crave flexibility above all else.

“Studies from Melbourne University, the Australian Life Pattern study, followed a cohort of 600 youth from their final year of secondary school in 2006 until the age of 27, and they found that their attitudes to work look very much like the gen X group who were followed throughout their 20s in the 1990s.

“In other words, while flexibility was important for these young people, they consistently ranked it below full-time work.

“At age 20 to 21, 86 per cent of participants ranked job security as high importance, six years later at age 26 to 27 that had increased to 95 per cent.

“Similar outcomes read evident from other surveys conducted by Melbourne University Graduate School of Education, the critical thing there is not the generational cohort but the life stage that people have reached, if they’re very young security is not as important as when they’re older.

“We need to understand and recognise that generational abstractions conceal significant issues related to employment opportunities and employability for young and older workers and as importantly we need to be aware of these abstractions and their role in legitimising insecurity, precarity, bias and discrimination.”

Event presentations

Frank Ribuot, Randstad MP3

Lucy Taksa, Macquarie University MP3

Moderated discussion MP3

Delegate handout PDF