Older workers – not just parents of young children – need flexible working hours

Companies must offer older employees flexible work hours and conditions to keep them in the workforce, according to a leading Australian organisational psychologist speaking tomorrow at the 9th Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference in Brisbane.
Associate Professor Margaret Patrickson, of the University of South Australia, says that older workers who can make a staged exit from work often enjoy better mental, physical and financial health than those who retire suddenly but few are offered the flexible working conditions that would allow them to achieve this.

She said: “Older workers are forced to rely on the flexible working policies designed for parents of young children, but these are not often made available by companies. As a result many workers are forced into casual or low-paid work, which does not take advantage of the skills and experience they have.”

The failure to take advantage of the expertise and energy of those older Australians who want to remain in work has been reported to cost the Australian economy an estimated $10.8 billion each year.

But Associate Professor Patrickson says that despite Government policies to minimise the economic cost of the ageing population by keeping those aged over 55 in work, employers are failing to keep pace because of ingrained prejudices about older workers.
Professor Patrickson says: “Many employers have an unfair perception that older workers lack initiative and are not as up-to-date or dedicated. These views are deeply entrenched and we must challenge them.”

The number of Australians aged 85 and over is expected to quadruple by 2050, according to the Australian Government, with those aged over 65 representing a quarter of the population, up from 13 per cent today.

Another psychologist presenting at the conference, Dr Hannes Zacher, of the University of Queensland, says older workers are increasingly facing the challenge of caring for elderly parents and need their employers to do more to accommodate them.

Dr Zacher’s research shows that employees who believe that their employers care for them and support them in their caregiving responsibilities reported better mental health and, regardless of gender, higher levels of work engagement.

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About IOP: The ninth biennial Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference, hosted by the Australian Psychological Society College of Organisational Psychologists, will be held in Brisbane from 23 to 26 June. It will explore current workplace issues such as leadership, stigma, workplace bullying, work/life balance, safety and mental health in the workplace. For a full program, go to www.iopconference.com.au .