Report shows employers can benefit from older workers


Agesim can be a barrier to organisations benefiting from wisdom and late-life creativity, writes JAMIE SMYTH, Social Affairs Correspondent

OLDER WORKERS are an increasingly important resource for employers, who can benefit from the “late-life creativity” and wisdom they bring to their work. But they face many barriers to employment that reflect ageism in society, according to a new report entitled Ageing, the Demographic Dividend and Work.

“It is a sign of an ageist society that we nearly always assume that cognitive changes with ageing are all negative – in fact late-life creativity reminds us that there are positive cognitive changes with ageing – wisdom, strategic thinking, reasoning,” says the report by Prof Desmond O’Neill, Centre of Ageing, Neuroscience and the Humanities at Tallaght hospital.

Prof O’Neill highlights several masterpieces by artists and composers such as Matisse, Monet and Handel, which were completed in old age to demonstrate the concept of late-life creativity. He says societies with a high proportion of older people maintain and support complexity, and become economically more productive. He argues that there is accumulating evidence of a major demographic dividend for ageing, contrary to many negative news headlines.

“By restricting recruitment to so-called ‘prime age’ workers, many organisations have prevented themselves from maximising their human resources potential,” says Prof O’Neill.

The report disputes common perceptions about the decline in cognitive skills of older workers, noting that it is now recognised through research that age is not an issue in acquiring new technological skills.

It says general health in later life is improving, citing a US study that found disability rates among older people in the US have fallen by 1.5 per cent per year over the past decade.

This result was achieved through better health literacy, opportunistic screening and more diagnostics and seems to be replicated in other developed countries.

“These improvements in the general health and wellbeing of older people may lead to significant opportunities for continued working for older people in the workforce,” says the report.

The report also focuses on “Europe-wide discrimination” against older workers that creates barriers to their full inclusion in the workforce. Prof O’Neill highlights “push” factors, which represent a failure of workplaces to engage with ageing – through ageist recruitment policies and negative perceptions of older workers and inflexible working practices. He also identifies “pull” factors such as financial incentives to retire early but notes these lie outside the scope of the current report.

The report warns a policy of extending the retirement age without providing life-long training, age-friendly workplaces and eliminating ageism represents a double-threat to older people.

It concludes the Government, education and training bodies, businesses, unions and age advocacy groups need to work together to create a new framework for developing workplaces and policies supportive of working later life in Ireland.