Hosing Down the 8 Negative Perceptions of Older Firefighters in the Workplace – Part Two

Older Firefighter

Areas Where Older Firefighters Feel the Heat at Work

Recent research highlights some of the common challenges experienced by older firefighters that can impact upon their careers. Many of these issues may not be readily apparent but the workplace may be able to better support their staff in simple and cost-effective ways. It is common for an older workforce to have multiple caring responsibilities including, but not limited to, their own children or grandchildren, and supporting sick or elderly parents or a partner. Limits to retirement planning and poorly planned finances can tie an older workforce member to the workplace. Fewer workplace resources with growing job demands often contributes to organisational stress, and many older staff can feel dismissed or overlooked by younger colleagues. Finally, older staff often have a plethora of skills and organisational knowledge that is frequently underutilised. Workforce planning, job design (or redesign), informed managers and HR staff can all be instrumental in supporting an older workforce and value-adding to an organisation.

Unprepared for Retirement

Many workers found they were underprepared financially (and psychologically) to retire, and for some there was an avoidance of the type of forward planning required. Having insufficient funds to retire often placed additional stress on employees who felt “trapped” to stay at work to meet this financial burden. Staff well-being employees may have a role to play in supporting their workforce with retirement planning earlier in their careers.

Older man caring for his wifePoor fit between job demands and job resources

Common job demands for public safety workers include the physical demands and complexity of the role, and consideration of the hazards associated with the work. Job resources comprise the tools, equipment, technology, training and supports needed to successfully perform the duties of a role. Limits on funds may be a significant source of resource reduction, but so to the ingenuity of managers. For example, minor adjustments to job roles may help older workers complete their work duties more efficiently, such as “buddy systems” when learning new technology.

Underutilisation of skills

The wealth of experience and many years of training that older workers have was often overlooked by managerial staff, wasting valuable resources.

Feeling dismissed and overlooked

The feeling of being dismissed or overlooked by younger staff over an extended period can be demoralising and add pressure on older staff to “prove” they are as fit and effective as their younger counterparts.

How do we do better?

With this information at hand, how can our workplaces better support older public safety workers?

Anita Pickerden offers some reassuring, cost effective and pragmatic advice for workplaces to give back to their public safety staff. She recommends that “the most straightforward way to eliminate the risks of burnout, fatigue and cognitive weariness is to reassess and improve job design and job resources in order to reduce job demands to a manageable level. To design or redesign the job in order to improve the job resources at a time of economic constraint may seem to be a daunting task, but good job resources such as improved internal communications; supportive managers, supervisors and team members; support from HR for managers when taking difficult decisions are not impossible to achieve, nor are they an expensive option, and yet they could create significant improvements”.

So, what could you doing better support your older workforce?

Learn how can you best support this valuable and often under-utilised resource in your workplace. Feel free to reach out, we would welcome hearing from you through hello@unearth.com.au

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