As with other industrialized nations Australia's population is aging and older workers are encouraged to work for longer. At the same time, Australia's university sector, which is aging, is being reconfigured through changes that potentially marginalize its older workers as higher education institutions try to become more competitive in a global market. In this context, youthfulness appears to embody competitiveness and academic institutions are increasingly aspiring to a young workforce profile. This qualitative article builds on previous research to explore to what extent ageist assumptions shape attitudes to older workers and human resource management (HRM) practices within Australian universities even when HRM practitioners are well versed in antidiscrimination legislation that (unlike the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in the United States) applies to workers of all ages. Semistructured interviews conducted with 22 HRM practitioners in Australian universities reveal that university HRM practices generally overlook the value of retaining an older workforce by conflating "potential" with "youthfulness," assuming that staff potential and performance share a negative correlation with age. While mostly lower-ranked institutions have attempted to retain older academics to maintain an adequate labor supply, this study finds that university policies targeting the ongoing utilization of older workers generally are underdeveloped. Consequently, the availability of late career employment arrangements is dependent upon institutions' strategic goals, with favorable ad hoc solutions offered to academics with outstanding performance records, while a rhetoric of performance decline threatens to marginalize older academic researchers and teachers more generally.
Against a background of population ageing, and with it, concomitant effects on social welfare systems and labour markets, public policy makers in affected nations are seeking ways of pushing out the final age of withdrawal from their labour markets. Central to such efforts is promoting the contribution of older workers to organizations and overcoming labour market age barriers. Within this advocacy approach there has been recent interest in identifying and promulgating examples of employer best practice in order to emphasize new dimensions of the business case for employing older workers. Drawing on literature concerned with advocating an ethical concern in human resource management as it pertains to older workers, this article examines an exemplar set of employer case studies aimed at promulgating best practice. It considers the concept of age management and its manifestations to argue that many standard HRM practices are firmly, although probably unwittingly, grounded in ageist assumptions concerning the capacities, potentiality and contributions of both younger and older workers. This, we argue, is a consequence of an unnecessarily narrow conception of good employment practice based in an economic rationality that is not conducive to the effective management of age in organizations.