Stay up to date with all the latest from Shared Value Project by signing up to our eNewsletter

Report: Australia’s Ageing Workforce Forum

January 2, 2012

The demographics of Australia’s workforce are shifting with consequences for all sectors of society.

The baby boomer generation is retiring at a time when productivity levels are falling from state to state.  To avoid a labour crisis, we must rethink the roles that older workers play in our economy and society. We must examine how ageing Australians are treated in the workplace today, and framing more appropriate conversations regarding retirement.

The Shared Value Project has facilitated the second roundtable discussion on the ageing workforce challenge.  Our goal was to lead representatives from government, business and community organisations in developing a practical, “in company” solution.  This included examining the way in which older Australians are treated in the workforce, and framing appropriate discussions with employees regarding retirement.

What follows is a summary of our key findings: the nature of the challenge, definitions of value, and a consensus for action.

Defining the Problem

The implications of an ageing workforce cannot be isolated to a singular sector of society. Governments, businesses and communities may be uniquely affected by the issue, but the overall challenge is interrelated. With no one organisation able to resolve the issue of its own accord, the challenge is ideally situated for a shared value response.

The impact of age discrimination exemplifies the common interest that stakeholders have in developing a shared solution. We know that age discrimination is destructive on a personal level, but it is also directly linked to economic productivity and community well-being. With many older workers unable to secure employment due to discrimination or ageism, too many are now developing a dependency on state benefits despite still having a lot to contribute to society. This dependence consumes state funds and increases health risks. Businesses must bear the cost of replacing retiring workers, of continually retraining staff, and attempting to capture intellectual property.

Defining Value

The Shared Value Project asked representatives from business, government, and community groups to define what ‘value’ means to their own organisations, in relation to the ageing workforce issue.

We learnt that developing a sense of respect and worth for older Australians is of paramount importance. Their understanding of ‘value’ is embedded in environments of empowerment: environments that champion not only the interests of an ageing community, but the development of a collective voice that increases their advocacy with business and government actors. This empowerment in turn creates more resilient communities and workers.

Value was defined as the ability to enable older people to exercise legitimate choice, whether this is through their aspirations or via productivity. The key is to strengthen active participatory models, in which older citizens are encouraged to take ownership of their lives rather than being passive recipients of those who deal with life for them. Revenue, and therefore savings, are also valued by government leading to proactive policies that generate higher productivity and reduce health and benefits costs.

Value is associated with shareholder returns and therefore revenue and profit generation. However, importantly, value is definitely seen in the employee output and input in company development. Thus there is a keenness to empower employees to speak openly. The company is eager to express notions of respect in the workplace conscious that employees feel increasingly undervalued by employers. Companies invest in education and communication to explain options and offer flexible rewards. Business is to devise programs of engagement and contact in which employees feel comfortable expressing their interests without the fear of an employer backlash. For many, this required the aid of a community advocate.

We learnt that the needs and values of an employee differ considerably when their culture and workplaces roles are taken into account. As such, employers and community advocates need to better understand older workers through an appropriate profiling of their ambitions and needs. There are many reasons why an employee may leave the workplace, and developing a more nuanced understanding of their interests enables a company to handle this process with sensitivity.

Consensus for Action

  • Organised collaboration will enable the development of practical processes, which will further the interests of all involved.
  • Respecting the individual workers along with older citizens is of paramount importance. Establishing appropriate frameworks will be the key.
  • Partnerships are an exciting alternative that increase public visibility and create opportunity through cooperation.
  • We will continue to create a pilot program in the coming months, one which can be taken to respective bosses and crafted into pragmatic solutions.
  • There many resources and people who have an interest in resolving the issues of an ageing workforce – we should continue to engage them as we continue to grow.


Citywide Service Solutions
Skills Victoria
Council on the Ageing Victoria
The Shared Value Project