Overcoming the paradox of employers' views about older workers
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In advanced and developing economies, ageing populations and low birth rates are emphasising the need for retaining and sustaining competent older workers. This paper examines policy and practice implications from the contradictory accounts directed towards those workers aged over 44 years whom are usually classified as "older workers". It focuses on a key and paradoxical impediment in the retention of these workers in labour forces. That is, despite their increasing dependence on older workers, employers often position them as 'last resort' employees, hence inhibiting their access to employment, and the kinds of developmental opportunities and advancements afforded other categories of workers. Yet, in contrast, many older workers report being competent in their work; a view that is supported by other evidence. Using Australia as a case study, this paper argues that policies and practices to retain and sustain workers over 45 need to de-emphasise the term 'older workers' and reconsider how workplace environments and government policies, as well as practices by workers themselves, might pursue longer and more productive working lives for those aged over 45. It seeks to elaborate the paradox of the (under)valuing of older workers' contributions and provide direction for retaining and supporting the ongoing employability of these workers. It concludes by proposing that government, industry bodies and sector councils that seek to change employer attitudes will likely require a dual process comprising both engagement with older workers and a balanced appraisal of their worth. Alone, subsidies and/or mandation may well serve to entrench age bias without measures to redress that bias through a systematic appraisal of their current and potential contributions. In addition, to support this transformation of bias and sustain their employability, older workers will likely need to exercise greater agency in their work and learning.
International Journal of Human Resource Management
© 2011 Routledge. This is an electronic version of an article published in International Journal of Human Resource Management, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp. 1248-1261. International Journal of Human Resource Management is available online at: http://www.informaworld.com with the open URL of your article.
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