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05 Ageing and work ability

The 1947 Census of the Commonwealth of Australia showed 8.0% of Australians were 65 years of age and over, a doubling of the 4.0% recorded in the 1901 Census.1 This proportion increased to 12.0% by 1996, and in 2011 those 65 years of age and over represented 14.0%of the national population. Moreover, between 1991 and 2011, the proportion of the Australian population 85 years of age and over more than doubled from 0.9% in 1991 to 1.8% in 2011. And the proportion under 15 years of age decreased from 21.9% to 19.3% over the same 20 years.

Figure 5.1 shows the changing age profile of those 45 years of age and over in the Australian Public Service (APS) from 1967 to 2012. In 1967, 70.5% of the workforce was under 45 years of age and those 50 to 54 years comprised 9.3% of the workforce. In 2012, 56.1% of the workforce was under 45 years of age and, despite a steady decline between 1967 and 1985, 14.8% were between 50 and 54 years of age.2 In 1986, the proportion of those aged under 45 years in the APS peaked at 80.6%. After a steady decline, from 1976 to 1989, the proportion of those 50 to 69 years of age has risen steadily. Like the Australian population, the APS workforce has been ageing rapidly since the early 1990s.

Figure 5.1 Proportion of all APS employees aged 45 years or older, 1967–2012

Source: APSED

Note: Employees in the 70 years of age and over group are excluded from this figure due to very small numbers. The first year with employees in the 70 years and over age group was in 1999, with one employee. This age group contained 209 employees in 2012.

The changing age profile of the APS workforce has shaped leaders' and managers' views of the risks associated with the ageing workforce. For example, the discourse on the ageing workforce in the late 1980s reflected negative perceptions of ageing and older people in terms such as the ‘ageing crisis’ and the ‘burden of ageing’. The prevailing view emphasised the economic and social risks posed by an older working population. More recently, the phrases ‘older consumer’ or ‘silver economy’ reflect the economic opportunities accompanying an older population in terms of new goods and services that can be provided to meet the consumer demands of an ageing society.

Research has shown that employers can have stereotyped views of the abilities and attitudes of older employees.3 These attitudes can have positive and negative influences on the retention and recruitment of older employees and the types of work that might be available for them. A growing body of research shows that this type of bias may be unconscious and implicit in the way people judge others.4 Whether the behaviour is unconscious or not, it is clear that bias in the workplace results in negative outcomes for organisations. As older employees become more prevalent in the APS workforce, it becomes increasingly important to challenge preconceptions about how this group contributes to organisational performance and productivity.

The Australian Government referred to the opportunities of ‘positive’ ageing in establishing an ongoing Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians to5:

… lead national dialogue on ageing issues, improve coordination of policy design across portfolios, and to work with the Government in implementing initial responses and developing longer term responses to recommendations made in the Turning Grey into Gold report.

‘Realising the economic potential of senior Australians: turning grey into gold’ (Turning Grey into Gold) was the third report produced by the advisory panel, established to examine how Australia can best harness the opportunities that much larger, and more active, communities of older Australians bring.6 A deliverable of the government's response to Turning Grey into Gold was that7:

The federal, state, and territory governments: embed age diversity within their workforces and model best practice on attracting, developing, and retaining older workers; and report annually on age diversity in each agency; and successful initiatives put in place.

In responding to this deliverable the Australian Government noted that the APS200 Project: Workability and Ageing in the APS8 led by Comcare in partnership with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) was underway.

This chapter shows how the age structure of the APS workforce is changing, with an emphasis on those 45 years of age and older. It provides an overview of the Workability and Ageing Project and deepens the analysis by exploring attitudes and opinions of older employees. In particular, it examines how the mature-age workforce differs from other age segments in the APS. The aim is to build a better understanding of the multi-generational APS to inform the development of effective workforce strategy.

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The Workability and Ageing Project

In August 2011 the Secretaries Board commissioned the Workability and Ageing Project to design an action plan to tackle the workforce challenges of an ageing APS, the impact of chronic disease impairing work capacity, and the need to engage a multi-generational workforce.

The team working on the Workability and Ageing Project (APS200 project team) examined the obstacles to employees working for longer in the APS. The goal was to propose an integrated model that would include health and functional needs of employees, agency investment in learning and development, aspects of attitudes to ageing and motivation to work, as well as aspects of the work environment and work community. This would constitute a framework within which the APS could implement workforce and workplace strategies to address the obstacles.

In May 2012, the project team delivered the ‘APS200 Project: Workability and Ageing in the APS—Framework for Action’ to the Secretaries Board. The APS Framework for Action is shown in Figure 5.2. Its four key elements are designed to tackle the obstacles to a longer, productive worklife in the APS.

Figure 5.2 Work ability and ageing in the APS Framework for Action

Source: APS200 Workability and Ageing Project

The APS Framework for Action provides a coherent plan for turning the demographic risk of an ageing APS workforce into a managed opportunity. It includes priority areas for action that focus on enabling employees to participate effectively in the workforce throughout their working life.

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APS workforce age profile

At June 2012, the median age of ongoing employees in the APS was 42 years (44 years for men and 41 years for women). This was unchanged from last year. In 1998 the median age was 40 years.

The largest group is between 50 and 54 years of age; however, there was an increase in representation again this year in the 60 years and over age group, which increased from 5.2% of all ongoing employees at June 2011 to 5.6% at June 2012.

Representation of young people (less than 25 years of age) fell again this year. At June 2012, 3.6% of all ongoing employees were in this age group, down from 3.9% last year. This has been a consistent and steady trend—at June 1998, young people accounted for 4.5% of all ongoing employees. The number of employees less than 20 years of age rose slightly, from 191 at June 2011 to 229 at June 2012, but the number in the 20 to 24 age group dropped. The combined age group reduced by 7.3%.

While the under 20 age group is small it had the largest growth (19.9%) in ongoing employment this year, much higher than the APS average growth of 0.6%. Older age groups had the next highest growth with 60 years of age and over increasing by 8.6%, 55 to 59 years increasing by 3.4% and 50 to 54 years by 2.1%. The proportion of employees 55 years and over has grown strongly over time, increasing from 5.9% of all ongoing employees at June 1998 to 14.8% at June 2012. This strong growth reflects the impact of government policies to encourage older employees to remain in the APS or return after taking early retirement. It also reflects the removal of compulsory age-65 retirement in 1999, which has facilitated increased recruitment of older employees and reduced separation rates. Between June 1999 and June 2012, 225 people 65 years of age and older were engaged as ongoing employees in the APS.

Engagements of ongoing employees rose in all age groups during 2011–12, particularly in the groups 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 years of age. Engagements in the 55 years and over age group increased slightly in proportional terms after falling slightly in the previous year. Over the past 15 years, this age group increased from 1.3% of all ongoing engagements to 5.4% in 2011–12. The median age of engagements this year was 31 years (32 years for men and 30 years for women). The median age of engagements for men remained constant over the past three years, while the median age for women increased in 2011–12 from the previous year.

The shifting age profile of the APS, with increased representation of older employees and the concurrent drop in younger employees is shown in Figure 5.3. This figure shows that the 55 years of age and over group increased by 8.8 percentage points from 1998. The 35 to 44 years age group’s representation decreased by 6.1 percentage points over the period.

Figure 5.3 Ongoing employees—change in proportion by age group, 1998 to 2012

Source: APSED

There is substantial variation in agency age profiles. Of the agencies with at least 1,000 ongoing employees at June 2012, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) and the Bureau of Meteorology had the oldest age profiles, with 59.3% and 52.6% respectively aged 45 years and over. Indeed, more than one-quarter of DVA's ongoing employees (28.1%) are aged 55 years and over. In contrast, the Australian Agency of International Development (AusAID) (26.3%) and the Attorney-General’s Department (27.7%) had the lowest proportion of employees 45 years of age and over.

The APS has a more middle-aged age profile than does the Australian labour force (Figure 5.4).

Figure 5.4 Age profile of ongoing APS employees and Australian labour force, June 2012

Source: APSED, Australian Bureau of Statistics

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Age, generation and period effects

For the first time in APS history, four generations are working side-by-side in the workplace. This includes employees born immediately before or during World War II who are coming to the end of their extended working life. The majority of this multi-generational workforce—born in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s—are at different life and career stages. Such a workforce is a new phenomenon for the APS and there is a need to understand how the interaction between the age segments affects how the APS will recruit, select, train, reward, promote and exit employees.9

Workplace differences in attitude and behaviour between age segments are often simplified into generational cohorts that span approximately 20 years. However, the differences frequently rest on speculation rather than informed research.10 This year, for the first time, the birth year of the APS employees who responded to the 2012 State of the Service APS employee census was recorded to enable fine-grained analysis of attitudinal differences across age groupings. The improved granularity of the analysis allows for a better understanding of the way attitudes and opinions towards work in the APS change with age and influence perceptions of work. However, differences in perceptions of the workplace are a combination of three effects—generational, ageing and period—that can be difficult to distinguish from each other.

  • Generational effects refer to the notion that people born in a given period form a cohort and share a set of common experiences that influence their attitudes and opinions. Allocating the workforce to generational bands (for example, Baby Boomers) has become the most common representation of cohort effects.
  • Age effects refer to the notion that at any point every generational cohort passes through an age where they share something in common with the generations that preceded them. In sharing an age, each generation also shares passage through a life-cycle stage.11 For example, a shared age effect may be the experience of a ‘mid-life crisis’. While the character of the mid-life crisis may suit the time—a generational effect—the underlying phenomenon remains relatively stable for all generations that pass through middle adulthood. Importantly, age or life-stage effects are considered more stable, and therefore more predictable, than generational effects; although, there is clearly an inter-relationship between these two ways of understanding the behaviour of age segments in the workforce.
  • Period effects refer to the notion that environmental influences affect ageing cohorts at one point in time. The impact of the events of 11 September 2001 and its aftermath, or the impacts of the Global Financial Crisis, are examples of a period effect that have shaped the attitudes and behaviour of all age groups at one point.

The relationship between generation, age and period makes isolating the effect of a single variable, like generation, on workplace behaviour difficult.

A more productive approach to understanding the multi-generational APS workforce may be to take a life-stage view. This takes account of individual decision-making on the interaction between work-related factors such as job demands (pressure or hours worked), control (degree of autonomy), extent of workplace support (supervisor and peers), and family-related demands, responsibilities and needs.

Concepts of post-work ‘retirement’ and ‘lifestyle’ for older employees and the longer time spent completing education before entering the workforce for younger employees are potentially changing the position of work in relation to life-stage for all age groups. This may lead to different decision-making around job choice and engagement as well as job mobility and exit from the workforce. Similarly, long-run trends—such as increased labour force participation of women, the rise of part-time work, the growing presence of double-income dependent families, and older employees in the labour force—have altered the way work-life balance is valued.12 Consequently, the way employees engage with and position a working life is changing, and this has follow-on implications for workplace design and strategy in the APS.

The changing dynamics of the APS workplace may be a result of changes in work-life balance. The tension between work and life may be time-based; for example, where the time necessary for success at work prevents employees from satisfactorily engaging with family. It may be strain-based; for example, where the pressure experienced in family, possibly due to increased caring responsibilities, detracts from the employee's ability to engage fully with work.13 These tensions between work and life are likely to manifest differently at different life-stages—this is an age effect rather than the more popularly reported generational effect.

The significance of a life-stage view of the relationship between work and life is that, in part, life-stages and family conditions may be a significant determinant of individual career and work choices. The increasing interest in downshifting14—the increase in part-time work for men and women—and the extension of working life all reflect individual decisions that impact on the workplace. Consequently, how employees interact with the workplace may be increasingly determined by the ability of an employee to distribute personal resources between family and work demands.

This idea of distribution is embedded in the understanding of work ability that informed the APS200 project. Finnish researcher Juhani Ilmarinen describes the concept of work ability in the following way:15

Work ability … is primarily a question of balance between work and personal resources, attitudes, values, and so forth … Personal resources change with age, for example; and, with globalization and new technology, work demands also change. The factors affecting work ability are therefore continuously changing and must be balanced.

While the concept of work ability has predominately been considered in the context of an ageing population, the notion of changing resource balance and allocation across life and career stages has broader applicability. Indeed, while changing personal resource allocation may be most evident in the way older segments of the workforce are choosing to re-position work, similar, and possibly more dramatic, changes may be taking place in the middle years of life and career. Figure 5.5 shows the difference in APS employee satisfaction with work-life balance in their current job by age group. It may be that the different perceptions across age groups are more effected by life-stage than generational cohort.

Figure 5.5 Satisfaction with work-life balance by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

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A U-shaped relationship between age and perception of work

This year is the first time that such a finely detailed analysis of the attitudes and opinions of age groups in the APS has been conducted. Importantly, comparisons of age segments in the workplace show a consistent curved or U-shaped relationship. The oldest and youngest segments are often the most positive in their outlook on the workplace, while those in the middle years are substantially less positive. This U-shaped relationship is evident in Figure 5.5.

The U-shaped relationship is a common finding in age-based studies. For example, in 1957 Frederick Herzberg reported that employee age and length of service in an organisation were both found to bear a U-shaped relationship with job satisfaction.16 More recently, economic literature has consistently reported that the relationship between age and happiness is U-shaped.17 This finding appears to be consistent in studies across the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, Europe, and South Africa.18 The U-shaped relationship is also apparent in the generational comparison of the components of the APS Employee Engagement Model described in Chapter 4. However, the difficulty of isolating the effect of a single age-related variable means it is often not clear cut and more analysis of this finding in the APS workforce is required.19

However, the finer age segmentation used in this chapter shows there are minor, but potentially important, differences in attitude and opinion within the traditional generational bands. The U-shaped relationship is repeated throughout the analysis of APS employee attitudes and opinions to work. Differences in attitudes and opinions across age segments can be seen in variations from this standard U-shape. These will be highlighted in the analysis.

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Age and engagement

Chapter 4 shows differences for job and team engagement across generations in the workforce. Figure 5.6 shows employee engagement with a finer segmentation of age.

The characteristic U-shaped relationship is apparent on each component of the employee engagement model described in Chapter 4. Younger employees show high levels of engagement. The levels fall sharply with employees in the middle years and climb again with older employees.

While these findings are not definitive they suggest that when devising workplace strategies to influence the productivity of a multi-generational workforce, it may be necessary to consider more finely tuned and age targeted approaches rather than the broad 20-year categories of a generational cohort.

Figure 5.6 Employee engagement by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

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Age and job strain

The literature on mature age workers suggests that the symptoms of work-related stress and burnout increase with age but peak at 50 to 55 years of age and then decrease with older age.20 Women are also reported to be more prone to work-related stress than men. Researchers consider that this may be due to conflicts between work and family life, in particular greater caring responsibilities.21 The issue of caring responsibilities is addressed later in this chapter.

One of the most influential bodies of work on the impacts of job strain on employee health—particularly mental health—comes from the United Kingdom Civil Service Health and Safety Executive (HSE)22, which focused on six areas of work context and content that research has recognised as central to managing work-related stress, namely:

  • demand—including such issues as workload, work patterns and working environment
  • control—how much say employees have in the way they do their work
  • support—including the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line managers and colleagues
  • relationships—including positive working practices in place to avoid conflict and deal with unacceptable behaviour
  • role—whether employees understand their role within their organisation and whether their organisation ensures employees do not have conflicting roles
  • change—how organisational change (large and small) is managed and communicated.

The HSE observed strong evidence linking job strain factors associated with demands, control and support to negative health outcomes arising from workplace stress. The evidence linking roles, relationships and change to health outcomes is less strong.23 In Australia, the principles of HSE management standards have been integrated into Comcare's approach to managing psychological injuries in the workplace.24

The employee census includes the HSE First Pass Tool for assessing the six areas of work context. Analysis of these items showed minor differences between age groups on four of the seven job strain elements.25

Figure 5.7 reveals that older employees were more likely to report ‘sometimes’ working under extreme time pressures. There were few differences across age groups on perceptions of the level of autonomy in deciding how to do their work (Figure 5.8).

Figures 5.9 and 5.10 show that older employees were less likely to report feeling ‘always’ supported by peers or managers, which is less positive than might have been expected.

Figure 5.7 Employee perceptions of role demand by age group, 2011–1226

Source: Employee census

Figure 5.8 Employee perceptions of role control by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Figure 5.9 Employee perceptions of manager support by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Figure 5.10 Employee perceptions of peer support by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Overall, these findings show that by the principal measures of the job strain index, older employees are no more at risk of negative health outcomes arising from workplace stress than are other age segments in the APS workforce. Additionally, there are no differences for men and women in any age grouping. This suggests that APS women are no more likely to be at risk of negative health outcomes arising from workplace stress. This finding runs counter to the literature and may indicate that aspects of demand, control and support are more beneficial for women in the APS than they are in other workplaces.

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Age and workplace flexibility

Part-time work for ongoing women is highest in the 30 to 44 age group, with 30.5% working part time at June 2012; for men, the proportion was 4.5%. Part-time work was lowest in the under 30 age group. The proportion rose again in the 60 years of age and over group, particularly for men—6.6% of men in this age group were working part time at June 2012 (Figure 5.11).

There has been a steady slow growth in the number of men working part time. For example, the proportion of men aged 45 to 49 years of age working part time rose from 1.9% in 2000 to 5.1% in 2012. There has been substantially higher growth among those under 25 years of age. For example, the proportion of men aged 20 to 24 working part time grew from 6.0% in 2000 to 19.9% in 2012. The ABS reports that one of the most noticeable developments in the labour market over the past 50 years was the substantial growth in part-time work.27 Traditionally, this has been an important employment option for women with young children and those, primarily young people, who are studying. The finding that an increasing proportion of young men are working part time may reflect a change in the availability of entry-level employment in the APS or, alternatively, a changing pattern in employment choices made by young men.

While absolute numbers are low, the proportion of those 60 years of age and over working part time is highest for all age groups. However, there are also a substantial number of mature age employees in the APS continuing to work full time. For example, while 44.5% of men aged 70 to 79 were working part time in 2012, the remaining 55.5% were working full time. It appears that APS employees are extending their working life and in doing so are accessing the full variety of employment options. Consequently, it would be incorrect to assume that older employees will automatically choose to retire or work part time once they reach a certain age.

Figure 5.11 Proportion of ongoing employees working part time by age group and sex, June 2012

Source: APSED

Age and caring

There is a view that caring responsibilities of older Australians are increasing and that this is limiting the extent to which this group can engage in full-time work.28 Also, as mentioned earlier, there is a suggestion that higher levels of caring responsibilities among women, combined with increased work participation, leads to an increased propensity for work-related stress.29

Figure 5.12 shows that the proportion of employees with caring responsibilities peaks between 35 and 44 years of age. The oldest and youngest segments of the workforce are less likely to have caring responsibilities.

Figure 5.12 Proportion of age groups with caring responsibilities, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Figure 5.13 shows the relationship between age and type of caring responsibility. An interesting result is that 28% of those under 25 years of age indicated they had caring responsibilities for a parent. This is an unexpected finding that requires further investigation.

Figure 5.13 Caring responsibilities(a) by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Note: (a) This was a multiple response question as respondents were allowed to select as many caring responsibilities as applied.

Age and satisfaction with flexible working arrangements

Figure 5.14 shows that overall APS employees are satisfied with their ability to access and use flexible working arrangements. The U-shaped relationship is again evident with the oldest and youngest segments of the workforce the most satisfied with these arrangements and the middle year segments not as satisfied. Even at its lowest point, 69% of employees indicated satisfaction with their ability to access and use flexible working arrangements.

Figure 5.14 Satisfaction with ability to access and use flexible work arrangements by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

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Age and productivity

Review of the literature consistently found little evidence that chronological age is a strong determinant of sickness absence, work-related injuries or productivity.30

As outlined in Chapter 4, the APS Employee Engagement Model measures employee productivity through the concepts of employee performance and employee availability. Performance is measured on a 10-point, self-report scale. Availability is measured using employees' self-report use of sick leave in the previous fortnight and their intention to leave their agency.

Older employees were more likely to rate their performance more highly than younger employees. The differences are minor but reinforce the overall observation that older employees tend to have a more positive workplace outlook than do other age segments.

Age and workplace absence

There is often a suggestion that older employees have a high impact on unscheduled absence rates. Analysis of the associations between age and workplace absence are minor, except for carer's leave.

Most employees reported they had taken no leave in the preceding fortnight, however, employees between 35 and 44 years of age were more likely to have taken carer's leave with 11% of this group taking up to one day. As shown earlier, this is consistent with the ages at which employees are most likely to have caring responsibilities.

Sick leave was the most reported form of leave used by employees in the preceding fortnight. While differences are minor, younger employees were more likely to have taken up to one day of sick leave in the preceding fortnight.

The view that older employees contribute disproportionately to unscheduled absence requires more examination, but on the evidence available through the employee census there is no difference in overall leave use due to age.

Age, separations and intention to leave

A challenge for all agencies is to attract and retain skilled workers across all age ranges. Older employees are more likely to be working at higher classifications and, in general, have longer lengths of service, compared with the average. Consequently, the ageing of the APS workforce raises significant workforce planning and succession management challenges for all agencies. Employees in the 45 years of age and over group, who will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years, account for 44.0% of ongoing employees, up from 33.9% in 1998. While still a sizeable proportion, the growing cohort of older employees suggests that continuing employment in the APS may be a more attractive option than thought some years ago. Since older employees continue to have options, it is encouraging that Secretaries have commissioned work aimed at positioning the APS as an attractive employment option for capable workers.

In the past, the proportion of employees eligible for retirement in the next 10 years has been interpreted as a major workforce risk for the APS. However, as employees continue to work for longer this risk may not be as considerable as has been portrayed.

Separations

Figure 5.15 shows how the main separation types have varied over the past 15 years. Age retirements have increased steadily over time, from 3.3% of all separations in 1997–98 to 19.3% in 2011–12. Resignations have remained the most common separation type for more than a decade, varying inversely each year with the rise and fall in retrenchments.

Figure 5.15 Separations of ongoing employees, 1997–98 to 2011–12

Source: APSED

Separations by age group for the past two years are shown in Table 5.1. The proportion of ongoing employees in each age group at June 2011 is included for comparison. In general, the number of separations fell across most age groups, with the exception of the 40 to 44, 55 to 59 and 60 and over age groups.

Table 5.1 Separations of ongoing employees by age group, 2010–11 and 2011–12
2010–11 2011–12 Change 2010–11 to 2011–12 Ongoing employees June 2012
No. % No. % % %
Source: APSED
Under 20 25 0.2 24 0.2 -4.0 0.2
20 to 24 481 4.6 458 4.49 -4.8 3.5
25 to 29 1379 13.2 1284 12.6 -6.9 11.0
30 to 34 1200 11.5 1156 11.33 -3.7 13.4
35 to 39 1139 10.9 1048 10.3 -8.0 13.7
40 to 44 921 8.8 980 9.6 6.4 14.2
45 to 49 860 8.2 836 8.2 -2.8 14.5
50 to 54 1480 14.2 1395 13.7 -5.7 14.8
55 to 59 1326 12.7 1349 13.2 1.7 9.2
60 and over 1637 15.7 1677 16.4 2.4 5.6
Total 10448 100.0 10207 100.0 -2.3 100.0

Figure 5.16 shows the proportion of ongoing employees in the 50 to 65 years cohort that separated from the APS through resignation or retirement during the past 15 years. The sharp rise in the separation rate for those 54 years of age from 1997–98 to 2001–02 is most likely due to the strong growth in earnings rates for the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme (CSS), and the subsequent effect of the financial incentive for some members to resign just before their 55th birthday—the so-called 54/11 effect. Separations for this cohort then stabilised for several years before falling sharply during 2008–09 and 2009–10. The separation rate fell again during 2011–12. The resignation rate for those 54 years of age was 11.5%, compared with 24.0% in 2007–08. The fall is probably due to two factors: first, the CSS closed to new members in 1990, so the proportion of 54-year-old members declined over time; and second, the negative effects of the economic climate on the value of superannuation earnings rates and the reduced incentive for resigning at 54/11.

When only employees with at least 22 years of service are included (those in the APS before the CSS closed to new members), the overall pattern of separations over time for the 50 to 65 years cohort is similar, however the proportion of 54-year-olds resigning is much higher, peaking at 50.9% in 2007–08, and dropping to 23.7% in 2011–12.

Figure 5.16 Resignation or retirement rate for selected ages, 1997–98 to 2011–12

Source: APSED

Intention to leave

Intention to leave is an important lead indicator for assessing future workforce capacity. In 2010–11, 33% of employees indicated an intention to leave their agency within two years. This was a higher proportion than was reported in 2009–10 (28%). In 2012, 22% of employees intend to leave within 12 months.31

Figure 5.17 shows that the U-shaped age effect is most evident for those intending to leave within the next two years, with older and younger employees the most mobile. Employees in the middle years are more likely to indicate they will be working in their agency for at least the next three years.

Figure 5.17 Employee intentions to leave by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

The 22%32 of employees who indicated they intended to leave their agency within the next 12 months were also asked to indicate where they thought they might be working. Figure 5.18 shows that the destination varies considerably by age. Overwhelmingly, of those not retiring, most employees indicated they expected to be working for another public service organisation. Older and younger employees were more likely than those in the middle years to be considering options beyond the public sector, in particular the private sector.

Figure 5.18 Employee anticipated destinations on leaving current agency within the next 12 months(a), 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Note: (a) Includes those who reported ‘I want to leave as soon as possible’ and ‘I want to leave my agency within the next 12 months’.

Table 5.2 shows the top three reasons employees would leave their agency. Younger workers were more likely to indicate that issues related to ‘career’ were a basis for leaving. The quality of senior leadership is more of an issue for older than for younger employees. Older employees were more likely to select ‘none of the above’. It is expected that the inclusion of the ‘to retire’ option would clarify this result.

Table 5.2 Employee reasons(a) for intending to leave their agency within the next 12 months(b), 2011–12
Age group (years) Top 3 reasons for leaving (%)

Source: Employee census

Notes:

(a) This was a multiple response question as respondents were allowed to select up to three reasons.

(b) Includes those who reported ‘I want to leave as soon as possible’ and ‘I want to leave my agency within the next 12 months’.

Under 25 Lack of future career opportunities in my agency (36%) Desire to gain further experience (33%) Desire to try a different type of work or seeking a career change (33%)
25–34 Lack of future career opportunities in my agency (39%) Desire to try a different type of work or seeking a career change (27%) Desire to gain further experience (26%)
35–44 Lack of future career opportunities in my agency (37%) Senior leadership is of a poor quality (27%) Desire to try a different type of work or seeking a career change (22%)
45–54 Lack of future career opportunities in my agency (34%) Senior leadership is of a poor quality (31%) Desire to try a different type of work or seeking a career change (19%)
55–64 Senior leadership is of a poor quality (27%) Lack of future career opportunities in my agency (23%) None of the above (19%)
65 and over None of the above (41%) Senior leadership is of a poor quality (18%) Lack of future career opportunities in my agency (11%)

While 45.0% of ongoing employees may be eligible to retire in the next 10 years, the majority intend to continue working in the public sector. Indeed, 58% of respondents to the employee census aged 45 years and over intend to stay in the APS for at least the next three years. It would seem that the workforce risk posed by a flood of potential retirements is mitigated by the intention of many in this group to stay for at least the next three years. As employees continue to extend their working life it is anticipated that this will remain the case, provided the APS continues to offer attractive employment opportunities.

Age and disability

In 2012, older employees were more likely to report disability. However, the proportion of older employees reporting disability appears to peak in the low 60s before declining slightly. This may be due to a healthy survivor effect where those continuing to work into older age tend to be those who are still physically capable of working while those whose performance has declined have opted to leave or move to other, less demanding roles.33 The ABS reports that in the general labour force the second most common factor influencing the decision of those over 45 years of age, who intend to retire, about when they would retire was ‘personal health or physical abilities’ (25% men and 25% women).34

There is a minor relationship between age and whether an individual is recorded as a person with disability in their agency's HR system. Older employees are less likely to withhold information about their disability but are also more likely to report they have never been asked for this information.

Figure 5.19 shows that while physical impairments are consistent across age groups, the proportion of employees with sensory impairments increases with age.35 By contrast, the proportion of employees reporting psychological conditions decreases.

Figure 5.19 Main type of ongoing disability by age, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Age, health and safety

There were no differences between age and accessing agency-supported health and wellbeing programs. However, Figures 5.20 and 5.21 show that younger and older employees are more likely to agree that their agency genuinely cares about employees being healthy and safe at work and that their agency supports employees who are injured or become ill due to work. Again, the characteristic U-shape of the life-cycle curve is evident in these charts.

Figure 5.20 Employees who agree that their agency genuinely cares about employees being healthy and safe at work by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Figure 5.21 Employees who agree that their agency supports employees who are injured or become ill due to work by age group, 2011–12

Source: Employee census

Agency recruitment and retention strategies

Agencies were asked to describe the recruitment and retention strategies in place to encourage older employees to join or stay.

Agency responses highlighted that for recruitment and retention the focus is on providing flexible working arrangements which allow individuals to balance work and life. Most agencies reported that through their enterprise agreement they seek to offer a broad range of flexible employment opportunities. Agencies believe this supports a diverse range of candidates (in terms of age and personal circumstances) and is particularly attractive to mature age workers.

Many agencies are seeking to maintain a connection with retired employees with strong corporate knowledge through alumni programs. These programs allow agencies to temporarily re-engage retired employees with specialist knowledge. Importantly, it allows the retired employee to register their interest in further employment but decide where and when they will temporarily re-join the workforce.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has collected ‘age positive’ stories as a way of combating the negative stereotypes about ageing and older employees who can influence attitudes in the community and become a factor leading to age discrimination. These stories can be accessed on the Australian Human Rights Commission website.36 Agencies might consider using similar stories from their agency to demonstrate the contribution mature age employees make to agency outcomes.

In the following case study the Department of Human Services engaged with employees aged 45 and over to better understand what might encourage mature age employees to stay.

Department of Human Services—employer of choice for mature employees

The Department of Human Services aims to become an ‘employer of choice’ for mature age employees, ensuring it continues to build a strong workforce reflecting the community it serves well into the future.

In November 2011, the department surveyed its mature age staff, aged 45 and over. More than 2,100 responded, identifying the top three factors encouraging mature age workers to stay with DHS for the next two years. These top factors are: financial incentives such as pay and superannuation provisions, job location and flexible working arrangements allowing work-life balance.

The department also sought feedback from its mature age workforce through an online collaboration platform called ‘Speechbubble’. Employees can post comments, suggestions and feedback on Speechbubble. It provides a less formal and more immediate way for the department to consult directly and widely with its employees. Through Speechbubble, the department asked how it could create a more attractive workplace for mature age workers. Specific strategies the department has in place as a result include a Mature Age Employee Network, access to reasonable adjustment, access to flexible working arrangements and access to online resources on the department's intranet.

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Key chapter findings

The APS is a flexible, adaptable and evolving workplace that has in place conditions to accommodate a multi-generational workforce. The APS Framework for Action provides a structure for developing and refining workforce strategies to attract, engage and retain a multi-generational workforce in four key areas: workforce planning and development; frontline confidence; work design; and health and wellbeing.

The APS has considerable information on the demographics and attitudes of its workforce. The demographic profile has changed considerably over time and there is some evidence that the way employees position work in relation to their other responsibilities is also changing. How employees resolve the tension between work and life differs with age. To attract, engage and retain a multi-generational workforce, agencies need to have a thorough understanding of the needs of workforce segments and be agile in providing workplace flexibility.

The APS workforce continues to age, partly through lower levels of recruitment and higher levels of separation among younger people, increased levels of recruitment of older employees and the extension of working life among mature age employees.

Employees 45 years and over, who will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years, remain a sizeable proportion of the workforce. However, the growing cohort of older employees remaining in the workforce suggests that earlier concerns of a mass departure are now a lower risk to APS capability.

In the APS, there is a consistent U-shape relationship between age, the workplace and individual wellbeing. The oldest and youngest segments of the workforce often have a more positive outlook than those in their middle years. This suggests that in devising workplace strategies to influence the productivity of a multi-generational workforce, it may be necessary to consider more finely tuned, age-targeted approaches. More research is required to understand the relationship between age, the workplace and wellbeing.

A focus on better understanding the links between life and career stage, work and family conditions, and the interface between work and family may provide more substantial insights into the APS workforce than generational cohort differences.

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1 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Australian Historical Population Statistics, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2008).

2 The size of the APS workforce in 1967 was 70,027 ongoing employees. In 2012 it was 154,307 ongoing employees.

3 S McNair, M Flynn and N Dutton, Employer Responses to an Ageing Workforce: A Qualitative Study, Department for Work and Pensions, Leeds, (2007).

4 AJ Lee, ‘Unconscious Bias Theory in Employment Discrimination Litigation’, Harvard Civil Rights–Civil Liberties Law Review, vol. 40, (2005), pp. 481–503.

5 Australian Government, Budget Paper No.2 Part 2: Expense Measures, Treasury, (2012).

6 The Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians produced three reports: ‘Realising the economic potential of senior Australians: changing face of society’; ‘Realising the economic potential of senior Australians: enabling opportunity’, and ‘Realising the economic potential of senior Australians: turning grey into gold’.

7 W Swan, M Butler, E Compton, G Lewin and B Howe, Government Response to the Final Report of the Advisory Panel on the Economic Potential of Senior Australians, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2012).

8 The APS200 was established as part of the APS Reform Blueprint. It comprises the Secretaries Board, selected agency heads and Senior Executive Service Band 3 or equivalent officers from agencies that employ staff under the Public Service Act 1999. APS200 members have a leading role in communicating the vision of the APS of the future and building the understanding, engagement and commitment of employees to the reform agenda. In addition to their role as leaders in their organisations, and more widely across the APS, APS200 members also support the Secretaries Board by undertaking strategic projects and initiatives as cross-portfolio teams.

9 DP Costanza, JM Badger, RL Fraser, JB Severt and PA Gade, ‘Generational Differences in Work Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis’, Journal of Business and Psychology, vol. 27, no. 4. (2012), pp. 375–394.

10 DP Costanza, JM Badger, RL Fraser, JB Severt and PA Gade, ‘Generational Differences in Work Related Attitudes: A Meta-analysis’, Journal of Business and Psychology, vol. 27, no. 4. (2012), pp. 375–394.

11 NB Ryder, ‘The Cohort as a Concept in the Study of Social Change’, American Sociological Review, vol. 30, no. 6, (1965), pp. 843–861.

12 JH Greenhaus and GN Powell, ‘The Family-Relatedness of Work Decisions: A Framework and Agenda for Theory and Research’, Journal of Vocational Behavior, vol. 80, (2012), pp. 246–255.

13 DS Carlson, KM Kacmar and LJ Williams, ‘Construction and Initial Validation of a Multidimensional Measure of Work-Family Conflict’, Journal of Vocational Behavior, vol. 56, (2000), pp. 249–276.

14 Downshifting refers to employees who choose to move from a financially rewarding but stressful career path or lifestyle to one that is less pressured and less highly paid but which better balances work and life commitments.

15 J Ilmarinen, 'Ageing and Work: An International Perspective', in SJ Czaia and J Sharit, eds., Ageing and Work: Issues and Implications in a Changing Landscape, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, (2009).

16 F Herzberg, B Mausner, RO Peterson and DF Capwell, Job Attitudes: Review of Research and Opinion, Psychological Service of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, (1957).

17 DG Blanchflower and AJ Oswald, ‘Hypertension and Happiness across Nations’, Journal of Health Economics, vol. 27, (2008), pp. 218–233. DJ Blanchflower, International Evidence on Well-being, Institute for the Study of Labor, Bonn, (2008).

18 F Herzberg, B Mausner, RO Peterson and DF Capwell, Job Attitudes: Review of Research and Opinion, Psychological Service of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, (1957).

19 P Frijters and T Beatton, ‘The Mystery of the U-Shaped Relationship between Happiness and Age’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, vol. 82, (2012), pp. 525–542.

20 L Yeomans, An Update on the Literature of Age and Employment, Health and Safety Executive, (2011), p. 20.

21 L Yeomans, An Update on the Literature of Age and Employment, Health and Safety Executive, (2011), p. 22.

22 CJ Mackay, R Cousins, PJ Kelly, S Lee and RH McCaig, ‘Management Standards' and Work Related Stress in the UK: Policy Background and Science’, Work and Stress, vol. 18, no. 2, (2004), pp. 91–112.

23 CJ Mackay, R Cousins, PJ Kelly, S Lee and RH McCaig, ‘Management Standards’ and Work Related Stress in the UK: Policy Background and Science’, Work and Stress, vol. 18, no. 2, (2004), pp. 91–112.

24 Comcare, Beyond Working Well: A Better Practice Guide, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2009).

25 For measurement purposes the HSE area of ‘support’ is divided into manager support and peer support. This gives seven measurement scales from six work content areas.

26 In this case the U-shaped relationship is inverted because the question is reverse coded; that is, a ‘better’ response is the lowest value on the response scale.

27 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1301.0 Year Book Australia 2012, (2012),

28 A Winkelmann-Gleed, ‘Retirement or Commited to Work? Conceptualising Prolonged Labour Market Participation Through Organisational Commitment’, Employee Relations, vol. 34, no. 1, (2011), pp. 80–90. New South Wales Ministerial Advisory Committee on Ageing, Work and Older People Roundtable Discussion Report, New South Wales Ministerial Advisory Committee on Ageing, (2009).

29 L Yeomans, An Update on the Literature of Age and Employment, Health and Safety Executive, (2011).

30 L Yeomans, An Update on the Literature of Age and Employment, Health and Safety Executive, (2011).

31 In 2012, the response options for this question were changed to provide finer reporting; consequently, the question is no longer directly comparable to preceding years. The 22% of employees who intend to leave within 12 months includes those who reported ‘I want to leave as soon as possible’ and ‘I want to leave my agency within the next 12 months’.

32 Includes those who reported ‘I want to leave as soon as possible’ and ‘I want to leave my agency within the next 12 months’.

33 M Silverstein, ‘Meeting the Challenges of an Aging Workforce’, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, vol. 51, (2008), pp. 269–280.

34 Australian Bureau of Statistics, Retirement and Retirement Intentions, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, (2011).

35 In the employee census each category is accompanied by the following description: sensory (e.g. loss of sight not corrected by glasses or contact lenses, loss of hearing, speech difficulties); physical (e.g. chronic or recurrent pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, fits or loss of consciousness, incomplete use of arms/fingers/feet/legs, disfigurement, deformity); psychological (e.g. mental illness, nervous or emotional condition, head injury, stroke, brain damage).

36 Australian Human Rights Commission, Age Positive.

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