Ageism, conflict and bias’ alive and well in Australian workplaces

5.5 million Australian workers have experienced some form of age discrimination in the workplace according to stunning new research released today.

Robert Walter’s Generation Gaps report reveals the prevalence of age discrimination, inter-generational conflict, and unconscious bias in the Australian workforce is at epidemic proportions. 

“No-one is immune with 2.7 million Gen Y employees (93%) feeling they have been overlooked for career progression because of their age, while an alarming 1.8 million Baby Boomers (83%) felt they have been discriminated against because of their age when being interviewed for a job,” said Robert Walters, Managing Director, James Nicholson.

While great inroads towards gender diversity in occupations and wage equality has been made in recent decades, age diversity seems to be alive and well in Australian workplaces with increased awareness the only solution. 

Workplace conflict is also rife within workplaces with just under half (49%) of all Australian workers (the equivalent of 5.9 million workers) experiencing workplace conflict. 

“Conflict at work can lead to decreased engagement and productivity, increased stress, illness, absenteeism and high turnover. Workplace conflict can impact all levels of an organisation, affecting whole teams and even divisions and departments.,” Mr Nicholson said. 

Workplace conflict is estimated to cost the Australian economy over $14 billion a year, while each Australian worker takes on average 3.2 days off every year due to workplace stress-related absenteeism . 

The Generation Gaps report also uncovered hiring managers are contributing to unconscious bias in the workplace what could be driving some of the discrimination being experienced by employees.  

“84% of Baby Boomers said they preferred to explore new ways of working over the tried and tested approach, while only a small number of hiring managers (5%) felt that older workers were open to new ideas when it came to employee characteristics.” 

“Even though it is a human trait unconscious bias can’t be swept under the table, or ignored. Measures need to be introduced in workplaces that help hiring managers and staff to identify real or perceived bias so it can be factored into decision making. Professional courses and training should be introduced if risks are identified,” said Mr Nicholson. 

While the report revealed some alarming findings when it came to age discrimination, conflict and bias in the workplace it also highlighted some surprising similarities across the generations who are all tech savvy, ready to collaborate, and eager to embrace innovation.

“Age diversity offers an exciting challenge for business leaders and there is much to gain. However, employers must recognise the alarming trends in age discrimination, conflict and bias in the workplace now and put the right policies and structures in place. 

“Government, employers and employees all have a role to play and must unite together to address these very important issues.” Mr Nicholson said. 

Advice for multigenerational workforces

1. Money still matters. When choosing between employers, professionals across the generations see remuneration and benefits as top consideration. Employers should regularly conduct market comparisons on their remuneration and benefits packages.

2. Manage career progression. When seeking to recruit Gen Y, employers should emphasise career progression opportunities. Programmes to fast track young talent can make employers stand out from the rest. 

3. Poor leadership can increase attrition rates. Recruit and train your leaders in the qualities your employees value most, and you’re more likely to hold onto your best talent across the generations.

4. Manage expectations. To reduce the chances of inter-generational conflict in the workplace, and boost retention rates, employers should take care to explain expectations around work ethic and commitment, and clearly set out paths for career progression.

5. Build around people. Working preferences are remarkably similar across the generations. Employers should aim to structure their workplace in way that facilitates collaboration and innovation.

6. Technology matters to everyone. To retain and recruit the best talent (across the generations) organisations must have the flexibility and capability to harness new and emerging technologies.

7. Manage unconscious bias. Age discrimination appears to still be relatively common. Employers should Introduce measures to help managers and staff identify any unconscious bias they may have, and factor this into their ongoing decision-making.

8. Help people learn. Professionals of all ages place great value upon continuous learning. In this fast-changing economy, employers who are proactive about upskilling their people will have an edge when it comes to talent recruitment and retention.


The full survey results can be found in the white paper Generation Gaps? Mythbusting assumptions about age in the workforce.

For more ideas on workplace culture, read our 'Are you culturally fit?’ article here