In this article we delve into the importance of understanding demography led absences in the workplace, and the steps employers can take to reduce these.
Debunking common assumptions about mature workforces.
How employers can reduce absence in the workplace by engaging with their maturing workforce to better understand their needs.
In Lockton’s Waking up to Absence Report (opens a new window), to understand key absence drivers within a client we identified every division except for one in their organisation had 70% of the workforce aged over 45. Importantly, 64% of these staff turned over within the first five years of employment. This may have been indicative of the physicality of the roles being unsustainable long-term for older workers.
Aside from this, the organisation had a significant skewing towards mature age workers, so HR leaders must be able to understand and engage this cohort in meaningful ways.
Demography based absence trends
People are an organisation’s biggest asset. That’s why absence in the workplace is one of the biggest financial drains to an organisation. Particularly as workforces mature. Most organisations do not have the luxury of being without a key, senior staff in their business. And with the reduced levels of migration and almost full employment across the Australian labour force, this means that replacement staff are not easy to find.
As employees mature, it is therefore important to understand the demography of absence within your business so you can respond accordingly. Attracting and retaining mature employees is critical for not only diversity but also for your bottom-line.
As workforces mature, employee working life needs to change so their working environment may need to alter to meet their changing physical and psychological needs. For instance, any changes to your workplace through improved technology or automation may require additional training and education to bring these staff along on the journey.
As employees mature, their injury risk profile changes as well. For example, mature employees may take longer to recover from injury or illness. This can have a direct impact on the cost and duration of people's insurance claims i.e. workers’ compensation.
Debunking mature worker stereotypes
Firstly, what is considered a mature worker? Simply put, it's people aged between 55 and 65 years old who continue to be in employment. Mature workers are an important contribution to Australia’s labour force, however, there are many misconceptions and assumptions made about mature workers which are unfound.
The following are some of those negative stereotypes:
“Mature workers are more expensive and mature workers impact our turnover and recruitment.”
According to humanrights.gov.au, workers aged 55 or over are five times less likely to change jobs. Therefore, whilst salaries can be higher for mature workers, efficiencies can be gained on the costs typically associated with exiting a business.
“Mature workers are more likely to take unplanned absences.”
The fact is that we are living longer and living healthier. The ABS Australian Health Survey for 2017-18 and Productivity Commission Chair Michael Brennan’s research found:
a working-age person with poor health has a probability of participating in the labour market more than 50 percentage points lower than someone in excellent health.
people in poor health work fewer hours, with more than one in five working 15 hours or less weekly compared with about one in ten for those in excellent health.
people with generally poor health have 50% more sick leave days.
mental illness has a particularly adverse effect on people’s capacity to participate in work and life. Since many mentally ill people are young, the lifetime effects are very pronounced.
From the above research, it can clearly be seen that the age of the person is not a pre-indicator of absence but rather the overall health of an individual, regardless of their age, which will drive unplanned absences within an organisation. The fact is that we are living longer and living healthier.
What is important however is to ensure that good work is designed to accommodate the needs of your workforce so that those with poorer health can still undertake the work, reducing the need to use absence as a coping mechanism for work strain.
“We don’t get ROI on our investment in training, health and wellness programs.”
Research by National Seniors Australia reveals 16 per cent of age pensioners have returned to paid work since retiring, while another 20 per cent are considering it. Often mature employees retire because they feel it is expected and do not understand what alternative options are available.
According to research by the National Broadband Network, 35% of baby boomers have an interest in studying and 48% would consider studying online. This means that organisations can have an increasing expectation that mature employees are not only like to actively engage in training but will see additional pathways which will allow them to remain with their current employer for longer than first imagined.
“Mature workers are resistant to change and unlikely to embrace new challenges and responsibilities.”
Research tells us that overall employees want continuous training so they can expand their knowledge base and diversify their skillset.
“Mature workers are biding their time till retirement.”
Given the population is living longer and the cost of living is on the rise, more people are considering remaining in employment beyond the national pension age. It’s also improper to assume that any demographic is more committed to their career than another – people are motivated to work for many varying factors and staying at work is a choice that is unique to the individual and their own reasons.
How organisations can re-engage and attract mature workers
It’s important for organisations to understand the needs of all their workers. With diagnostic tools and data, companies can identify trends. However, a good first step, is to engage the mature employee cohort in a safe and consultative manner to get a better insight into:
1. What are staff planning in relation to retirement?
2. What would keep them working longer?
3. How can work be designed to be safe and meaningful for employees who want to keep working but do not know what their options are?
Clear communication about vacancies across an organisation or opportunities to train and upskill will also help to remind mature workers of their options and gets them thinking about their future career plans.