Older Australians are returning to the workplace in droves, with nearly 40 per cent of new workers since the start of the pandemic aged over 55 years old.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Labour Force Survey November 2022 revealed that the national workforce grew by nearly 491,000 between October 2019 and October 2022, including the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the seismic shifts in the workplace this brought.
Of this growth, 186,000 of the new workers, or 38 per cent, were aged 55 years old or over.
Sydney recorded unprecedented numbers of older people joining the workforce, with 37,800 people aged over 55 joining its labour force in the same timeframe.
With a total of 74,600 people joining the workforce in Sydney, more than half of new workers since the pandemic are now aged over 55 years old. Of these, there was an even split between women and men.
The ABS report shows that the labour force participation rate for those aged between 55 and 59 years old reached a record 78.1 per cent in Sydney in October 2022. The participation rate includes people who are employed or who are seeking employment.
The workplace has undergone a revolution since the start of the pandemic, with unprecedented levels of working from home and flexible work options.
This seems to have encouraged older people to return to the workforce, as is reflected in the latest labour force data.
Tens of thousands of older Australians have been encouraged to take on a job, enjoying the flexible options that are now available, such as a four-day working week or permanently working from home.
The trend of older people returning to the labour force is unlikely to slow down going into 2023, KPMG demographer and urban economist Terry Rawnsley told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Our labour market is continuing to go gangbusters,” Rawnsley told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“What we are seeing is a great un-retirement, primarily driven by more favourable workplace conditions. We have seen a long-term trend of people working for longer, but the impact of the pandemic looks to have encouraged more older people to return to the labour force.”
A KPMG report from earlier this year showed the anticipated retirement age in Australia has crept higher since the pandemic, particularly for men.
The ABS stats show that Australia’s unemployment rate is now at a near-50 year low of 3.4 per cent, as of November, with a participation rate of 66.8 per cent.
One way in which Australian companies can help these older new employees is through the use of digital assistants. A recent report found that automated software robot assistants provided to employees can help people re-enter the workforce and take mundane, repetitive tech tasks off the hands of older workers.
One of the key workplace changes that has picked up steam since the start of the pandemic is the concept of a four-day work week, where employees work 80 per cent of their hours for 100 per cent of their pay at 100 per cent productivity.
This is seen as a way for employees to gain a better work-life balance and to encourage a more diverse workforce, including through helping older people return to employment.
Late last year, Unilever announced that all 500 of its Australian workers will be given the chance to take part in an 18-month trial of this concept, after a similar trial in New Zealand proved to be highly successful.
A number of Australian companies are also currently taking part in a large-scale trial of the four-day work week.