There's no overlooking the painfully obvious fact of life that, with every day, each of us is getting older. There is plenty of media focus on keeping healthy as we age, and all manner of jabs, tucks and other painful procedures to keep us looking young. Increasingly, we're also being told that staying in work as we age is good for our social engagement and wellbeing. But what about employers - is there an upside for them too?

The Federal government's proposed changes to the pension age might provide us with less of a choice as to how long we remain in the workforce, but continued engagement does harbour a silver lining for employees and business alike.

We put Catriona Byrne, of Sageco, a specialist mature age workforce planning firm, in the hot seat to talk to us about the benefits of engagement with mature age employees.

Catriona was quick to cite a multitude of benefits associated with keeping mature age employees engaged: "Mature age workers are typically the most experienced and reliable employees in a workforce. When they leave a business, their knowledge, experience and technical expertise leave with them, so retaining them will be increasingly important during a skills shortage". This is particularly the case in sectors where early to mid-career workers increasingly seek to undertake a "tour of duty" in Europe, Asia or the US.

So how can employers can maximise engagement with mature age workers? Not surprisingly, Catriona points to communication, encouraging employers to have conversations with their mature age employees about their working intentions: "Don't make the assumption that older workers want to 'retire'. Ask mature workers what their 'working' intentions are. What would help them choose to stay longer in the workforce? Is it flexible hours, flexible place of work, job redesign… it could simply mean an adjustment of start or finish times, a regular day off, or the ability to work from home". Flexibility in the workplace is of course increasingly common and can certainly assist employers in implementing arrangements to retain the valuable skills and experience of their mature age employees. Employees aged 55 and above now have a statutory right to request flexible work arrangements.

Catriona highlighted some other interesting facts and figures, which provide food for thought:

  • Research across a range of industry sectors (including education, electricity, gas and water, finance, manufacturing and transport, public service and services) found that mature age employees delivered an average net benefit of $1,956 per year to their employer compared to other employees, due to high retention rates, lower absenteeism, decreased recruitment costs and greater return on investment[1].
  • A study by Australian Health Management examined the daily work habits of 4,000 employees and found that employees aged 55 years and over performed at their best for approximately seven hours out of an eight hour day - this achievement could not be matched by other employees in the study[2].
  • Mature age employees, contrary to the assumption of many, are the fastest growing users of information technology[3] , and research supports the ability of these employees to learn newinformation technology skills and adjust to the introduction of new technologies in the workplace .

Of course, proposed changes to the pension age will make it increasingly important for employees to consider strategies for continued engagement in the workforce. However, planning for increased mature-aged workforce participation shouldn't be a one-way street: engaging mature age employees should also be a focus for employees given the benefits of retaining skills and experience.

For more information on Sageco, visit http://www.sageco.com.au/