Julia Banks will never forget the panic attacks. She still finds herself waking up in the middle of the night, heart pounding and mind racing, from the stress of running a Donut King franchise in Marsden, Queensland. As debts and losses mounted, Banks and her husband John lost their savings and family home.
“It’s pretty well destroyed our lives,” she says.
Bad case of corporate indigestion
Retail Food Group has been expanding for years, buying one retail food chain after another across Australia.
The Bankses started their Donut King store in early 2015 under a franchise agreement with Retail Food Group (RFG).
Gold Coast-based RFG is the country’s biggest food franchise operator, whose brands include Donut King, Brumby’s, Gloria Jean’s, Pizza Capers, Crust Gourmet Pizzas and Michel’s Patisserie. It has a market capitalisation of about $800 million and claims to have more than 2500 stores.
“We were told it was a gold mine, but from day one it was losing money,” recalls Banks.
In November the couple reached breaking point. They cleaned the store, packed up the doughnut maker and coffee machine and took staff to a Christmas lunch at Sizzler to break the news that they had closed permanently.
“It was heartbreaking, but what could we do? We had run out of options.”
The Bankses are one of hundreds of franchisees who have been financially devastated after signing up to one of the high-profile franchise brands under the RFG umbrella.
Longer careers and better health later in life could be on the cards for older Australians if workplaces were more age-friendly and promoted healthy lifestyles to their employees, a new study from Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra has found.
People who have a sense of control over their environment and life changes have better wellbeing (Source: Shutterstock)
The study, run in collaboration with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research and the Centre for Research on Ageing Health and Wellbeing (CRAHW) was conducted over the course of a year and used workforce transition data from a 10 year period (2001-2011) from the national HILDA survey of 1,700 people aged 45-64.
Results from the surveys allowed assessments on yearly changes in health, wellbeing and welfare dependency in relation with workforce transitions from paid work to unpaid work or early retirement, when compared to others who were staying in paid work.
Lead researcher from the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing within the ANU Research School of Population Health Dr Cathy Gong says the study revealed that health was the ‘primary and crucial factor’ underlying both voluntary and involuntary exits from paid work at mature ages.
“People who left paid work involuntarily experienced significant decreases in their satisfaction with their finances, health and life just in general,” Dr Gong says.
“They were also more likely to be psychologically distressed and welfare dependent.”
Dr Gong adds that people who had a sense of control over their environment and life changes had better wellbeing.
“People who are forced to retire early due to job loss or their own health report significant declines in their income and wellbeing in retirement,” she explains.
Co-researcher Professor Hal Kendig from CRAHW says the findings suggest that employment policies and practices need to change to improve mature aged workers’ control of their health and work environment.
“Age-friendly workplaces, work flexibility, retraining and promotion of healthy lifestyles are vital to address the major causes of not working, enable people to have longer careers and enhance wellbeing later in life,” he says.
“Voluntary retirement with control over the timing and manner of retirement had positive impacts on retirees’ psychological and social wellbeing.
“Enabling mature aged workers to work longer offers benefits for both individual wellbeing and government budgets.”
With anticipated workforce shortages, increased welfare expenditure and pressure on fiscal sustainability projected over the coming years due to Australia’s rapidly ageing population, the researchers say looking after older workers could enable to older population to work longer, contributing to meeting the challenges ahead.
Though Australia has legislation to address age discrimination within employment, Dr Gong says there are still ways that employers and the government can aid older Australians to continue working longer and more happily.
“A mature aged workers’ control of their health and work environment is found to be able to enhance wellbeing later in life, promoting health over the life span and age-friendly workplaces are fundamental to encouraging mature aged workers to work longer and to return to paid work after workforce transitions,” Dr Gong explains.
“Employers can enhance control, flexibility, workplace health promotion, and re-training among valued aged workers… governments can build human and social capital through health promotion and education across the life course.
“[This] is the most constructive way of enabling ageing people themselves to contribute to addressing the challenges of an ageing Australia.”
The researchers add that more fundamental structural change in workplaces requires attention to underlying ageist attitudes, and creating age-friendly workplaces with a good combination of workers at different ages is vital.
Ageism is discrimination or unfair treatment based on a person’s age. It can impact on someone’s confidence, job prospects, financial situation, health and their quality of life. Like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose of legitimising and sustaining inequalities between groups – in this case between people of different ages.
The Benevolent Society is working with our partners and supporters to research the attitudes and beliefs that drive ageism, and build a campaign based on this understanding to address ageism in Australia.
The EveryAGE Counts research into the drivers of ageism can be downloaded here.
Libby Low had planned to return to work soon after having her first baby, but after the child was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition she ended up staying out of the workforce for five years.
When she started looking for a job in January at the age of 40, friends told her the best she could hope for was a job in administration, despite her many years of experience in management.
Libby Low took five years out of the workforce to look after a child with special needs. Photo: Christopher Pearce
“I had low expectations,” she said. “It is absolutely intimidating. When I started thinking about what am I going to do, I didn’t know where to start.
“My head was in a different place for five years and I had no professional confidence.”
While looking for jobs, Ms Low stumbled on a new recruitment program that was targeting people who had been out of work for two years or more.
Her application for the job was successful and she started work four days a week as a consulting manager for Deloitte in July.
“It’s been great. It was a lot about restoring your confidence,” Ms Low said.
Ms Low will find out in mid-November whether she will get a permanent role with Deloitte after completing a 20-week program
Deloitte Australia said it introduced the new Return To Work Program in response to the under-representation of women in senior ranks.
A spokesman said it was open to men and women, but aimed to help women who have taken a break transition back into the workplace.
“The program is part of our wider strategy to improve diversity at all levels of the business and forms part of our commitment to being an inclusive employer,” he said.
While Deloitte said it was working towards increasing diversity, a new report released by the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women found that many organisations have “a mono culture valuing sameness, not difference” and marginalised women because of their caring roles.
The Unique Leadership of Minority Women Report found that being a woman from a minority group, which included older women, was a major barrier to entering senior leadership positions.
“A resounding theme was that women from minority groups have diverse experiences because of their unique contexts, experiences of diversity and discrimination which shaped a unique style of leadership that was more people focused, resilient, collaborative, interpersonal, empathetic, flexible, creative, lateral and innovative in their approaches to leadership, problem solving and developing business solutions,” the report said.
The director of the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women, Dr Diann Rodgers-Healey, who authored the national study of women mostly aged between 36 to 55, said not being caucasian, able-bodied, heterosexual, attending private schools and prestigious universities created significant disadvantages.
“With minorities working hard to achieve and prove themselves amongst those who are mostly Anglo-Saxon, despite doing the work, it was highlighted that they are not valued and remunerated as they should be, but relegated to be the “back staff worker”.
The report said women’s maturity, life experience and professional experience were valued in the community sector, “but in the corporate sector, prejudice to age, lack of recognition for their knowledge and experience have excluded older women from opportunities. Here they have to prove themselves by working harder and being more assertive”.
Aloma Fennell, national president of Older Women’s Network said she was concerned that older women were now being recognised as a “minority group” despite offering a lot of value in terms of ability and experience.
“Irrespective of what we have achieved or contributed, we are [a] very age-focused society,” she said.
“Women, particularly over the age of 55, are thought of as too old and undervalued. By the age of 60, you are completely invisible.
“But one in 60 people today are in the over-60 bracket and people will need to work until the pension age of 70. What are they going to do for 15 years?”.
A leading social welfare group will form a coalition to tackle ageism in what is being described as Australia’s biggest campaign to reframe attitudes towards growing older.
The Benevolent Society announced its campaign EveryAGE Counts on Thursday, as it launched a report that revealed concerning findings about growing older.
Executive director of the Benevolent Society Kirsty Nowlan said the research, The Drivers of Ageism, showed a mismatch between perceptions about ageing and reality.
“Views about ageing have a preponderance of negativity,” she said.
“People believe that ageing is a process of inevitable decline. The reality is a lot of the fear about ageing is based on a set of myths.
“Ninety per cent of people over 65 rate their health as excellent. More than 90 per cent of older people live independently, not in a nursing home.
“There is a real dissonance between people’s beliefs and what is actually happening.”
The research found that ageist attitudes were most prevalent around employment with one-third of respondents saying employers should be able to force older workers into reduced roles, one-quarter saying bosses would get better value out of training younger workers than older ones and one-fifth saying younger people should get priority over older people for promotion.
Eighteen per cent of respondents accused people who don’t retire at 65 of stealing jobs from younger people.
Alan Williams, 62, is attempting to return to the workforce after nine years of unemployment. After his wife was diagnosed with dementia, he became her full-time carer. He said that now he is willing to return to the workforce, his age appears to be a hindrance.
“You don’t get told officially but I’ve gone for 22 jobs this month and only got two interviews,” he said. “A few others had strict instructions saying that I currently have to be employed”
Mr Williams had previously been self-employed, running a variety of successful businesses. He said that even applying for jobs at his age can be difficult, with changing technology and changing attitudes.
“I rang a recruiter and said that I was putting in an online application and that I couldn’t find anywhere to put in a cover letter. She said she never reads them anyway.
“Coming back in, technology has changed. I expected that but a lot of the terminology is different too.”
Mr Williams said many of his friends had been in a similar situation and had simply given up on looking for work at their age.
“Friends in my age group, over 50, mostly are just doing volunteering work. They applied for several jobs but just didn’t get any.
“I would like a bit more in my superannuation though. I’m happy to work until I’m 75.
“I’m even starting to look overseas so I can get back into the workforce. At least then I’m actually back in the workforce.”
The research, which involved 1400 participants of varying ages, exposed a number of other negative stereotypes about ageing.
However, it did not state an age at which a person becomes “old”.
Almost 60 per cent of respondents believed mental and physical deterioration were inevitable, 43 per cent associated old age with death and 39 per cent said growing older meant losing independence.
Negative attitudes about the cost associated with ageing also came out in the survey with 19 per cent of respondents saying the amount of money spent on healthcare for the elderly should be rationed.
People aged over 65 who took part in the survey had experienced ageism with 57 per cent saying they’d been told a joke about older people, 38 per cent reporting being patronised and 37 per cent being ignored.
Almost a third of older people said they had been turned down for a job due to their age and 14 per cent said they had been turned down for a promotion.
There were some positive perceptions with 73 per cent of people saying older people had a lot to offer younger people, 65 per cent reporting older people have a strong work ethic and 65 per cent believing older people are responsible.
Almost 80 per cent of respondents agreed that ageism was an important issue.
Australians aged 65 and over comprise about 15 per cent of the population, a proportion set to increase to 23 per cent by 2064, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Dr Nowlan said the campaign would work with governments and the private sector over the next 10 to 15 years to address ageism, a form of discrimination that is likely to affect everyone.
As part of the advocacy, the coalition will lobby for a federal minister to represent older Australians.
“We view this as a long-term campaign of the same scope and scale as the NDIS,” she said.
“This campaign is a 10- to 15-year project aimed at shifting views about growing older.
“We have been given this gift of longer, healthier life and we really ought to make the most of it.”