Support older workers with multiple flexibility options

Published Tuesday 20th June 2023 by

Support older workers with multiple flexibility options

Employers should be arming managers against the myths, misconceptions and stereotypes around the ability of workers to work safely as theyage, an organisational psychologist specialising in workplace transitions has advised.

Head of consulting and insights at Transitioning Well, Rachael Palmer, told OHS Alert that employers play a major role in supporting workers’ wellbeing and mental health as they age and transition into retirement.

She says that when preparing for conversations with older workers about their functional capacity, if issues arise, a good “rule of thumb” is to”pretend you’re saying it to a 30-year-old worker”.

“If you can’t say it to a 30-year-old, it is probably at risk of being ageist and discriminatory. Because at the end of the day, it’s about whether that person can do the job safely, not about how old they are.”

According to Palmer, there are currently five generations in the Australian workforce and managers should be trained so they are confident in having conversations with workers of all ages.

“People are genuinely grappling with” the generation gaps, including on how to have open conversations with valued older workers to help them keep working or ramp down into retirement, she says.

“Employers absolutely have a role in opening up these ideas and these conversations,” Palmer says.

“It’s not saying that every manager needs to sit down and become a pseudo counsellor, that’s not appropriate. But having tools that they can give their people like having flexible work policies, being open to conversations, and talking about how they want to work is incredibly important,”she says.

Age diversity and multigenerational workplaces bring a lot of value to the workplace and the community at large, by harnessing the emotional intelligence, wealth of experience and resilience of older workers, she notes.

Flexibility means more than remote arrangements

Palmer says an organisation should have three policies to support ageing workers: a fitness-for-work policy, a flexible work policy and a retirement policy.

“Across the board, people at different life stages appreciate different types of flexibility [that can] improve their engagement, their mental health,their productivity,” she says.

Flexibility extends beyond working-from-home arrangements and can include job share, part-time work, “ad hoc flexibility” where workers can”duck away” for things like a doctor’s appointment, and flexible leave for when workers want longer time off work.

Good companies offer “lifestyle shifts” that break the assumption that all workers want to maximise their pay by allowing them to opt out of work on evenings and weekends.

Palmer says retirement policies should bring together relevant parts of other policies and outline their offerings – like retirement coaching and financial planning – to help workers plan their shift into retirement.

Companies can also conduct information sessions on topics like superannuation, the age pension and volunteering after retirement.

“A lot of people benefit from being able to ramp down to retirement – you know, being able to ease off on work and expand interests outside of work so that when you actually do retire, you’re not just falling off a cliff,” Palmer says.

Transitioning Well’s joint initiative with AustralianSuper, the Ageing Workforce Ready project, provides resources like policy templates to help employers navigate an ageing workforce.