Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Psychology and Social Science

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr Peter Hancock

Second Advisor

Dr Anna Targowska

Abstract

There has been a recent upsurge in media attention surrounding Australia’s ageing workforce. A review of academic, media and grey literature highlighted inadequacies in existing workplace polices, as well as flaws in financial and social security schemes. Of particular concern were persistent negative attitudes and counterproductive policies regarding mature age employees (MAEs). Poor retention rates among this cohort of workers aged 45 years and over are leading to skilled labour shortages and losses in corporate knowledge. This expected mass exodus of mature cohorts into retirement has been predicted to negatively impact the socio-economic sustainability of ageing societies world-wide and is a pertinent issue for Western Australia (WA).

The overarching objective of this study was to identify the ‘place’ of mature cohorts within WA workplaces and promote strategies that will improve the employment conditions and overall quality of life of ageing workforces. Research questions aimed to address the need for greater mature age employment up to and beyond pensionable age; identify ‘gaps’ in policies and programmes; and explore how mature cohorts were perceived (valued) and the extent their departure may affect WA society (labour force).

By using a mixed methods research design, this Doctoral dissertation developed a conceptual framework for limiting significant issues individuals, businesses and society may experience as a result of WA’s ageing workforce; whilst simultaneously promoting the benefits of maturity and mature age employment. This Re-Model draws upon the community development work principles of social justice, empowerment and social capital; and is further contextualised by methods of best practice identified from the triangulation of secondary sources, quantitative data and qualitative inquiry. Primary data collection involved the completion of 362 surveys, followed by 27 semistructured interviews and four focus group activities, with a cross section of MAEs, volunteers, their employers, retirees and unemployed cohorts from across WA.

Over one-third of current MAEs, employers and volunteers in this study reported they intended working later than the traditional age of retirement, with 71 per cent of this sample planning to semi-retire. Furthermore, almost 60 per cent of a sample that had previously exited the labour force was working at the time of data collection as semi-retirees or rehired retirees (rehirees). Collectively, these statistics indicated that despite predictions of mass disengagement among mature cohorts, most of this crosssection of Western Australians are seeking to remain in (or re-enter) the WA workforce beyond pensionable age. However, quantitative and qualitative findings revealed several barriers to their continued engagement, including access to ‘age-friendly’ workplaces; a dearth of targeted training (career) development and employment assistance; and a lack of value attributed to mature age skills and experience, particularly deleterious in WA’s youth-centric culture.

Primary data also highlighted several enabling factors for mature age employment. ‘Flexibility’ and ‘autonomy of choice’ were cited as key dimensions across all aspects of paid work, volunteering and retirement – whether in terms of worklife- balance; the individuation of training and development; or options available to those transitioning out of traditional employment. Data indicated that sustainable cultural change required more than just the removal of negative policies or introduction of punitive legislation. Maintaining a positive outlook among mature age individuals and simultaneously educating (younger) co-workers, employers, policy-makers (stakeholders) and society about the virtues of maturity and non-traditional work (skills) were considered essential to changing societal attitudes, behaviour and culture.

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