Want to attract and retain an older worker? Here’s how

working from home, older worker

Australia’s attitude towards older workers is taking an interesting turn as Omicron spreads rapidly knocking out swathes of the workforce as they go into quarantine. Government is recalling recently retired workers from health and education sectors to create a sustainable “surge workforce”. But what about small business? How can you ensure you have enough staff to keep going?

Workplace flexibility is key

The last two years have taught us that we need workplaces that are flexible. Flexible workplaces are what all employees are looking for these days. Attracting and retaining staff is one of the biggest issues small businesses face and it is now compounded by COVID. Offering flexible workplaces will help you attract and retain a diverse workforce of all ages. It will mean your employees stay for longer and retain the corporate knowledge and skills.

The concept of workplace flexibility includes things like; work from home vs work in the office; part-time vs full time, permanent vs casual, flexibility in start and finish times. But it can also be role flexibility, training staff to step in and cover a colleague for a few days. This last one has several benefits; it not only ensures you have a backup but gives staff an opportunity to develop their skills.

Training needs to be an ongoing process

The concept of lifelong learning keeps workers of all ages engaged and stimulated throughout their career not just at the beginning. Keeping training opportunities for just your young or new employees is counterproductive. Firstly, it sends a message to older employees that they are not valued. According to Hunter Leonard in his book “Maturity Blues”, businesses that adopt life or career-long learning strategies and invest in skills development for all employees, of all ages ensure staff stay at your organisation longer. Feeling needed is one of the main reasons staff of any age stay with an employer. Offering equal opportunity to training is a simple and easy way to ensure your organisation has staff that feel valued and stay with you.

It is a myth that workers over 50 are not willing to learn new skills and that they are just marking time before retirement.  The fact is you can learn new skills at any age. Not only that, but older people are eager to do so. COTA Victoria’s Reach Train and Employ project trial participants proved they are willing to change careers, engage in education and learn new skills including learning online when people are well in their 60s and 70s. Do not overlook older people when it comes to professional development opportunities.

People are working later in life

Australians are ageing well. They are fitter and healthier than any other generation in the past and are able and willing to keep “working” into their 70s and even 80s. We should be encouraging them to do this, instead of putting up barriers through ageist attitudes which write them off from 50 years of age. The concept of “work” might look a little different for this population but then again, the concept of work is looking very different for all ages these days. Businesses need to keep up with emerging needs and attitudes of the working population and ensure they provide the environment to enable employees of all ages to thrive if they wish to future proof their businesses. This includes flexible workplaces and opportunities for all staff to develop. It includes embracing a diversity and inclusion agenda that includes diversity in age, skills and experience.

At COTA Victoria, 69 per cent of our 36 staff members are over 50, 27 per cent are over 60, with our oldest staff member in their 70s, and our oldest volunteer is still making a great impact in our community in their 90s. What supports does your business have in place to support our valuable ageing workforce?