Finding the right staff is critical to maintaining a well-skilled and productive workforce. Skills and labour shortages, wage competition, and a shrinking workforce are all reasons to examine your employment practices to ensure you can find your next worker as early as possible. The Australian retail sector has been warned for many years about looming labour and skill shortages caused by an aging population. This Christmas season, we need to understand it’s not “risky” to give mature aged workers more opportunity – rather, it’s risky if we don’t.

What is a mature aged worker?

There are varying definitions of a mature aged worker, some use 45+, others 50+, with an extension of range to beyond 75 years. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) defines mature age employment as employment over the age of 50 years and has found that workers aged over 55 are five times less likely to change jobs compared with workers aged 20-24, reducing ongoing recruitment and training costs. Further, mature workers deliver an average net benefit of $1,956 per year to their employer compared to the rest of the workforce – a result of increased retention, lower rates of absenteeism, decreased costs of recruitment and greater investment returns on training.

The advantages of mature aged workers

Mature aged workers have valuable contribution to make to the Australian retail sector. Here are just some of the benefits of mature aged workers:

  • Reliability and commitment – Mature aged workers can be great for businesses due to their experience, reliability, and strong work ethic. They are often more committed to their work and less likely to quickly change jobs or fail to turn up to shifts.
  • Businesses prosper on experience – Mature aged workers can bring extensive knowledge, life experience and work experience to an organisation. They have qualifications, technical abilities and transferable skills forged over many years.
  • Age diverse teams are strong teams – Employees varying in age are able to share their knowledge and expertise. A younger employee will reap the benefit of mentorship while a mature aged worker will have support with modern technology and systems.
  • Business brand optics – Having an older worker on the team sends the message that your business values its workers, older customers, and community.
  • Customer approachability – Mature aged workers have more experience in conducting themselves in social situations and may better relate to older customers.

Hiring mature aged workers

Here are some useful steps to develop a strategy to recruit and retain mature aged workers in the retail industry:

  1. Review whether organisational culture (current personnel policies and management style) affects the employment of mature aged workers and may need to be changed. Be alert for unconscious bias that may hint at barriers that exist to hiring mature aged workers. For example, hiring managers who are concerned about candidates who are ‘overqualified’ for a role creates a barrier to mature aged workers who are likely to have a broad skillset.
  2. Identify what alternative jobs or flexible arrangements (i.e. shorter hours, different start and finish times, additional unpaid or purchased leave) can be offered to encourage retiring workers to keep working or entice mature aged workers back in the workforce.
  3. Ensure any changes to the culture of the organisation benefit this business as whole and do not lead to the loss of key younger employees.
  4. Communicate to all staff the reasons for and the value of the business broadening its approach to employment.
  5. Consider where mature aged workers may need extra training or support i.e. with technology.
  6. Don’t create age clusters, involve other generation groups where necessary to achieve greater harmony between groups.
  7. Introduce age awareness training for store managers, HR personnel and other key personnel.
  8. Support individuals or group of staff who want to develop initiatives to combat age barriers.
  9. Encourage pre-retirement workers to pass on knowledge and competencies to other employee, thus ensuring succession planning and minimising loss of ‘commercial knowledge’. Consider offering phased retirement programs for workers exiting the business.
  10. Remove ageist barriers in language, processes and policies that might hinder retaining or recruiting mature aged workers, for example position descriptions that place high value on ‘digital natives’.

The value that mature aged workers bring to a business is undeniable. From their reliability and broad experience to their ability to mentor younger workers and connect with older customers, we encourage businesses to reflect on their employment practices.

The National Retail Association has a dedicated Workplace Relations team who can help you to implement and embed diversity strategies in your business. For assistance, you can contact us on 1800 RETAIL (738 245) and press option 1.