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Case Study – Building age management skills through workplace renewal

Services Australia

Services Australia is responsible for the development of service delivery policy and provides access to social, health and other payments and services. The Human Services Legislation Amendment Act 2011 integrated Medicare Australia and Centrelink with Services Australia (including CRS Australia and Australian Hearing) on 1 July 2011.

Over the past two years the organisation has been transforming—going through a process of integration and consolidation. Now they are a workforce of about 34,000 spread across more than 650 sites. Their workforce is diverse with a good representation of workers across the generations, with only pockets of workers set to retire at the same time.

The process of integrating businesses triggered a review of all workplace policies. While the ageing workforce had not presented any urgent risks or challenges, the Department recognised that understanding the needs of older workers would be a key part of its future workforce strategy. The department conducted a consultation process to seek the views of older workers about the factors that would contribute to their retention. The insights gained will inform the development of a mature age employee plan and have helped establish an ongoing dialogue with older workers. The expectation of an inclusive and positive workplace has also been set.

From insights to opportunity

The Department is not creating their mature workforce policy in isolation. They have engaged their workforce and asked them a series of questions about what factors would encourage them to stay, and conversely, what factors would contribute to them leaving.

The insights gained were informative although not surprising. The top factors that would encourage older workers to stay for at least the next two years were:

  • Financial incentives— pay and superannuation provisions
  • Location of the job—geography
  • Flexible working arrangements—better work/life balance
  • Having a good manager—supportive
  • Good work environment—positive and inclusive
  • Manageable workload—clear direction
  • Treated fairly—professional team environment

Reasons they would leave include:

  • Not feeling valued or appreciated—isolated
  • Skills not being used—underutilised
  • Negative stereotypes about aged workers—assumptions about their worth

Underpinned by the insights of older workers, and the Work Ability Model, which encourages integrated strategies to retain and recruit older workers, the Department encourages an inclusive workplace for all, regardless of age.

Continuing the conversation

Importantly, the Department talked about their approach in addition to taking practical action. Due to their geographic profile and size, the Department creates videos with key messages which are available to all staff.  They created a series of videos covering a number of diversity groups, including the ageing workforce. The video sets a very clear expectation about the type of inclusive workplace they want to achieve—one where all people are valued.

A mature age network of more than 500 workers ensures insights continue to be captured, discussions monitored and ideas actioned. It is a great way to continually tap into the experience of older workers, identify challenges, and address them before they turn into risks.

Just one example of the practical action the Department is trialling is a holiday transfer scheme. Being largely a service delivery agency, this allows people to transfer and use their skills in different locations. They find some workers want to holiday in a particular area and want a change of work scene too, so they offer their skills to other locations for a period of time—a great example of what can be achieved when workers and organisations collaborate.

While Services Australia is conscious of an ageing workforce and taking action to turn risk into opportunity, they’re also very aware of the impact the ageing population will have on their workload.

Departments like Services Australia have a role to play in keeping people who are willing and able to contribute, at work. The benefits of engaged, happy and healthy older workers will then flow through to society, and the broader economy.

For more information—Investing in Experience

Investing in Experience: Working for Today and Tomorrow (PDF, 2.0 MB) offers more advice about building age management skills, from workforce planning, to building frontline confidence.

About Services Australia

Services Australia is responsible for the development of service delivery policy and provides access to social, health and other payments and services. The Department offers a range of health, social and welfare payments and services through Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, CRS Australia and Australian Hearing. For more information visit Services Australia.

Comcare is working with organisations to share better practice. Comcare thanks Services Australia for sharing their experience and for highlighting the importance of collaborating with older workers on an ongoing basis to not only develop policy, but to ensure practical action meets a need and turns risk into opportunity.

Last updated: 02 Apr 2020
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