Age stereotyping prompts experienced workers to retire

Many mature-age workers feel they are regarded as ''dinosaurs'' by their colleagues and bosses and are not valued for their experience and commitment, a study shows.

Many mature-age workers feel they are regarded as ''dinosaurs'' by their colleagues and bosses and are not valued for their experience and commitment, a study shows.

MANY mature-age workers feel they are regarded as ''dinosaurs'' by their colleagues and bosses and are not valued for their experience and commitment, a study shows.

Despite the nation's need for older workers and the plan to lift the pension age to 67, some mature-age workers believe their workmates cannot wait for them to retire. The study, by National Seniors Australia, defines mature-age as 50 and over. It found what it calls ''stereotype threat'' - people's belief they are subject to demeaning stereotypes - to be a big problem for some older workers.

''I have been in this field for almost 34 years and have a pretty thick skin but sometimes smart remarks, always stated in a humorous form about age and people being 'dinosaurs', can be demoralising,'' one worker said.

''Experience is essential in my line of work and we should value rather than denigrate those who have 20-plus years of experience.''

Based on a sample of 1428 mature-age workers, and conducted by University of Queensland researchers, the study found 14 per cent felt a high degree of age stereotyping, 44 per cent a medium level, and 42 per cent a low level. Those doing physical work, such as police officers, perceived the highest levels of stereotyping.

The lead author, Courtney von Hippel, said overt discrimination was not necessary for mature-age workers to feel judged on the basis of stereotypes. ''Subtle things can happen in the workplace. If an older person doesn't get a coveted place on a leadership development seminar, they may worry it's because of their age,'' she said.

The chief executive of National Seniors Australia, Michael O'Neill, said workers were increasingly keen to prolong their careers but could confront negative attitudes.

''It's the loose commentary, not necessarily malicious, that can reinforce the vulnerabilities of mature-age workers,'' he said. ''If they aren't made welcome, it will complicate government policy that's aimed at retaining them in the workforce.''

The research found workers who reported the highest levels of age stereotyping were most likely to feel disengaged from work, and contemplate early retirement. Yet many were keen to take on new challenges and chafed at being overlooked for training and promotion.

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