Last resort employees: older workers' perceptions of workplace discrimination

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Journal Article
Human Resource Development International, 2011, 14 (4), pp. 375 - 389
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Many countries are becoming increasingly reliant upon an aging workforce. Yet, much literature positions older workers as `last resort employees, held in low esteem by employers whose preference for youth extends into decision-making about workplace engagement and support. As part of a broader study on maintaining the competence of older workers, we investigated the extent to which a group of employees in Australia aged 45 or more perceived they were discriminated against because of their age, including access to training, promotion opportunities and job security. Against expectations arising from the literature, informants reported little in the way of explicit age-related bias in their employment, opportunities for advancement and further development. Although the informants have particular characteristics and featured paraprofessional and professional workers, the contrast is noteworthy between what is reported in the literature and often premised on surveys, and our data were based on interviews. The findings indicate a need to be wary of making easy generalizations about the extent to which older workers per se are discriminated against in the workplace, while at the same time acknowledging that such discrimination exists, and perhaps for particular kinds of workers. In addition, we found a range of nuanced responses that suggest there are tensions between discriminations policies and practice that are a challenge for human resource development professionals.
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