Taking a Stand Against Ageism

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Each year on October 1 the UN celebrates “United Nations International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP),” in recognition of older individuals across the globe. Through targeted ageing awareness campaigns, the UN aims to address negative stereotypes and attitudes towards older people as well as foster inclusiveness in light of the challenges and opportunities that arise as a result of the ageing population.

There is no denying that our global population is ageing – and at an accelerating rate too.  Figures from last year’s United Nations World Population Ageing report indicate that the number of individuals aged 60 years and over is set to increase from 1.4 billion in 2015 to 2.1 billion in 2050. Furthermore, people are living longer than ever before. Advances in modern healthcare and technology have resulted in a general increase in global life expectancy from approximately 46.8 years half a century ago to 70.5 years in 2015.

Ageing in Australia

In the Australian context, the ageing demographic is similar to that of other industrialised nations. The Intergenerational Report (2015) produced by the Australian Treasury has projected that, by 2055, there will be in excess of 40,000 Australian individuals over 100 years of age. This is in stark comparison with 1975 figures where we only had 122 centenarians in total. In light of this growth, there is certainly a greater need to ensure that our current and future policies anticipate and target the needs of older people, particularly in critical areas such as social infrastructure, healthcare, and employment.

Workforce participation of older workers

With increased longevity comes an expectation and often a need to work for longer, resulting in many Australians delaying retirement for either voluntary or involuntary reasons. Yet, these individuals are facing some very real challenges in the workplace, including negative attitudes and stereotypes towards them and a lack of organisational support and policies which facilitate them to remain working for longer. Additionally, there are many older job seekers who find themselves excluded from re-entering the labour market due to discriminatory recruitment practices and assumptions surrounding age and performance. Further still, the longer older individuals find themselves out of the workforce, the harder it is to re-enter the labour market.

There are many cases of older Australians who are willing to work but are denied the opportunity. As described by the Australian Human Rights Commission (2016) – the right to work is a fundamental human right. Without access to work, older Australians are denied the self-fulfilment and independence that work brings. In light of the challenges faced by older workers, a National Enquiry into Employment Discrimination against Older Australians and Australians with Disability was led by the Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner, the Hon. Susan Ryan AO. The final report was released earlier this year, Willing to Work (2016), which outlined many recommendations to combat age discrimination in the workplace and during the recruitment process. The report findings were also released alongside a document that highlighted 53 case studies demonstrating best practice across a number of different Australian and international organisations and industries. Such organisations were recognised in relation to organisational leadership and strategy, recruitment, mentoring and internship programs, flexible work options, retention strategies, accommodating caring responsibilities, diversity, disability awareness training, and building healthy workplaces – including through universal design and workplace adjustments. These cases were intended for use as a resource by employers as a guide to help increase recruitment, participation, and retention of older workers.

Take a Stand Against Ageism

This year, the UN is committed to addressing the issue of ageism through their 2016 United Nations International Day of Older Persons theme: Take a Stand Against Ageism. The Centre for Workplace Leadership supports this objective and has conducted workshops to assist organisations in implementing age friendly workplace policies and practices. The Centre acknowledges the value older workers bring to an organisation through years of accumulated knowledge and experience and recognises the opportunities of utilising this.

The Centre for Workplace Leadership also recognises and acknowledges the opportunities surrounding the demographic shift both in this country and on an international scale. We welcome the celebrations surrounding the United Nations International Day of Older Persons in appreciating the multitude of contributions older people make to enrich society.
Read more about the United Nations International Day of Older Persons (UNIDOP) 2016 mission statement HERE.


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