Getting Rid of Mandatory Retirement is Just the First Step – Action is needed to prevent age discrimination in the workplace

There is growing recognition for the need to attract and retain older workers but effective strategies are only just being identified and are under utilized. It is important that employers and governments begin acknowledging the importance of older workers first and foremost by eliminating the blatant examples of age discrimination that persist such as mandatory retirement. Yet it is also important that they take measures to recruit and retain older workers while instilling zero tolerance policies for discrimination in the workplace. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s blatant.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has stated that raising the employment rate for older workers is critical to softening the blow of a shrinking labour force, which they foresee will have “major consequences for economic growth, public finance and living standards” in countries with aging populations.

A Manpower workforce survey has revealed that only 17% of Canadian employers have an older workers strategy and that only 24% have an older worker recruiting strategy. Click here to see the results of the Manpower survey.

The need for older worker retention is straight forward, there are insufficient numbers of new workers coming in to replace the exiting workers and the new workers are not properly trained. Employers need to focus on retention strategies such as identifying high demand employees and offering them job design incentives and flexibility that will encourage their continuing work effect. The most popular work options sought out by older workers are part-time work, the possibility of working from home, sabbatical, contract or phased retirement options or outplacement to a consultancy or staffing firm for project work on a needed basis.

This makes it all the more ludicrous to continue to discriminatory practice of mandatory retirement, especially when the arguments against it have all been rebutted:

– Proponents of mandatory retirement say that it allows for deferred compensation programs that bring about economic benefits in worker loyalty and that banning mandatory retirement would be costly to employers. But in jurisdictions that have eliminated mandatory retirement, no adverse cost effects have been observed. Indeed, employers would save on training costs as well as pension costs since pension payment are also delayed.

– Others say that if we put an end to mandatory retirement, it will be impossible for young people to get ahead. However, economists say that a healthy economy is actually limited in its growth by workers of all ages. They refer to this theory as the “lump-of-labour” fallacy. In actual fact we need these workers to stay on because of the looming labour shortage. Further since most older workers who have earned their full pension entitlements would retire, the actual impact on advancement is limited.

The government of Canada has invested in the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers which offers some re-training to some older workers who were laid off or are unemployed, mostly workers in single-industry rural areas. But what about creating incentives for businesses who want to launch older worker retention and recruiting programs?

What some businesses are doing to recruit and retain older workers