The Australian Seniors Series: Ageing in the Workforce 2021

The Australian Seniors Series: Ageing in the Workforce 2021 The Australian Seniors Series: Ageing in the Workforce 2021 explores the current experiences of seniors in the Australian workforce and how they feel about retirement.

The past two years have been defined by uncertainty and our jobs have become an increasingly important part of our lives, with more of us considering what the future holds and fewer of us actively thinking about our retirement. Despite the challenges we face in the workforce with age, we are grabbing the bull by its horns and reclaiming control over our careers.

The Ageing in the Workforce 2021 report forms part of the Australian Seniors Series, which explores the subject matters most important to our senior community. Surveying 5,000 Australians over 50, this in-depth study explores the current experiences of seniors in the Australian workforce, the impact of COVID-19, how they feel about retirement and how they are taking control of their careers.

It’s no doubt our jobs hold a special place in our lives as we get older, but unfortunately, we frequently experience a negative flip side of ageing in the workforce – ageism. 

The vast majority (88.9%) of those surveyed agree that ageism is prevalent in Australian workplaces and its well-established presence has meant that an alarming proportion experience it firsthand and are left to deal with its devastating impacts. 

Ageism impacts the way we are perceived and treated in the workforce in comparison to our younger colleagues, and the belief that we are undervalued in our workplaces is almost unanimous (93.2%) among our surveyed community. The feelings of inadequacy that accompany such perceptions of older employees has meant that more than a quarter (26.2%) have attempted to give the impression they are younger either at work or during the job application process.  

More than one-fifth (20.7%) are personally victimised by age discrimination in the workplace – a figure that has more than doubled since 2016 (9.6%). Similarly, over half (50.2%) have annoying assumptions made about them and over two-fifths (42.7%) feel patronised at work, all because of their age. 

These experiences have very real impacts on our career development in older age, with over three-fifths of those surveyed (70.6%) strongly agreeing that as we get older, it becomes harder to find a job (increasing from 45.8% in 2016). Unfortunately, ageism has led to almost a quarter (23.4%) believing they have been turned down for a job based solely on their age. 

Despite the ongoing challenges of ageism, COVID-19 has strengthened our relationship with work. Almost nine-tenths (85.6%) believe staying in the workforce longer is a good thing, causing close to one-fifth (18.6%) to rethink retirement. 

In fact, over three-quarters (75.7%) of those surveyed, plan to continue working indefinitely under the premise of supportive and flexible working conditions, leaving a planned retirement date up in the air for as many as two-fifths (45.3%).

Lengthening our careers is even appealing to those who have previously left the workforce, with more than two-fifths (45.4%) reporting an attempt to re-enter the workforce after leaving for a period or making a career change beyond 50. Meanwhile, effectively all semi and full retirees are considering returning to work in some capacity (99.5%), motivated by financial security (50.0%), missing our jobs (18.7%), boredom (17.8%) and seeking social connection (16.8%).

Despite the undeniable presence of ageism, three-quarters (74.9%) of our community are determined to find solutions to increase the longevity of their careers. Close to three-fifths (58.7%) have completed or are planning to receive further training beyond the age of 50. Meanwhile, as many as a third (36.0%) have already begun steering the conversation around ‘pretirement’, discussing plans for work-life balance with employers to meet our changing needs. 

Positively, experts are encouraging employers to capitalise on the unique value we bring to workplaces. Amanda Mackean, Founder and Director of Seeking Seniors, who specialises in recruiting over 45s says, “a common misconception is that older Australians are looking for those senior and ‘career-defining’ roles, but the truth is they want a different pace. Companies have an opportunity to bring in their expertise for a variety of mid-level vacancies.”

Stay tuned for the next chapter of the Australian Seniors Series – a report for seniors by Australian Seniors.