09/13/2017 17:04 EDT | Updated 09/13/2017 17:55 EDT

When Did It Become OK To Act Like Older Workers Can't Contribute?

We can't just focus on engaging millennials.

DragonImages via Getty Images

Canada's population is aging. In fact, the 2016 census revealed that for the first time in history, Canadians 65 years of age and older now outnumber children under 14 years old. Seniors are also the fastest-growing age demographic in Canada by far. The country's overall population grew by five per cent between 2011 and 2016, while the number of Canadians 85+ increased by 19.4 per cent and centenarians (i.e. those aged 100 or older) by 41.3 per cent.

While much of the conversation around this shift has focused on public policy relating to how the country's resources will continue to support Canadian seniors, there is also an important discussion the private sector needs to have relating to the opportunity older, more experienced employees bring to an organization.

Our aging population should remind businesses to look within their office walls and recognize older employees as significant assets to their organization. Gone are the days of automatic retirement at 65 years old. Today, many Canadians want to continue working, whether because they are excited to contribute to the growth of their company and industry, they enjoy the social environment an office offers, or they appreciate the financial security of a regular paycheque.

Our aging population should remind businesses to look within their office walls and recognize older employees as significant assets to their organization.

More than 500 people who work at Revera Inc. are over the age of 65. Every day, I see firsthand the kind of enthusiasm, experience, knowledge and loyalty they bring to the workplace. In fact, our oldest employee, Hazel McCallion is 96 years old and plays an integral role as chief elder officer in ensuring our residents are happy and that we as a company fulfill our vision of celebrating the ageless spirit.

Why haven't all Canadian organizations embraced the benefits of supporting older employees? Unfortunately, the answer is a pervasive kind of discrimination in Canadian society: ageism. While Canada prides itself on accepting and accommodating people regardless of race, colour, gender or creed, recent research shows that ageism continues to be the most tolerated form of social prejudice in our country. This is particularly problematic as negative attitudes towards seniors influence company policies and practices in ways that often go unnoticed.

Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Retired Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion at a news conference, with Finance Minister Charles Sousa being interviewed, at City Centre Transit Terminal in Mississauga, Ont., April 21, 2015.

Recent human resource planning has placed a great deal of emphasis on keeping millennial employees engaged. While there's value in growing new talent, organizations must also consider building a culture that respects, encourages and supports the abilities of older workers.

A small but significant step we've taken at Revera is to review our benefits packages and remove common restrictions affecting employees 65 years old and over. Few employers are aware that standard extended benefits are designed for people younger than 65. In fact, we discovered the need to review our benefits only when the issue was raised by one of our senior workers. For a negligible cost, we adjusted our coverage and sent a clear message to our older workers that they are just as important to our organization as everyone else.

Gone are the days of automatic retirement at 65 years old.

Simple changes can make a big difference. Flexible work arrangements such as job sharing, part-time work, or work-from-home programs cost companies next to nothing, yet give older employees control over their working hours as well as their working environments.

Changes can also be made to physical workspaces. Installing automatic doors with accessible buttons, providing courtesy parking for older employees, ensuring pathways are accessible to those who use mobility devices and even opting for sturdy and stable chairs can make offices a lot more age-friendly.

There has never been a better time to support older employees in Canada. Organizations that choose to improve the aging experience with innovative offerings and address ageism in the workplace will not only continue to grow strong businesses but be leaders in creating a better future for Canadian workers.

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