Leading practice case study: AFP

It is no secret that the ageing of Australia′s population is a well known phenomenon. Even though research by the University of Queensland into the overall workplace experience of mature-age workers in the Australian Federal Police (AFP) shows they are still satisfied and involved with their jobs, the organisation knows it cannot afford to ignore the phenomenon, and needs to continue to find ways to retain the wisdom and expertise of its mature-age members, as this case study reveals.

Currently the AFP boasts the low attrition rate of 4.26% and an average age of 39 which is approximately ten years less than the public service and the Australian workforce more generally. Approximately 6% of AFP employees are over 55 and these form the group of mature-age workers.

Last year, the University of Queensland, in partnership with the AFP, produced a report which encompassed research and analysis of the workplace experiences of the AFP′s mature-age workers. The report examined whether older workers (50+) in the AFP feel they are being evaluated on the basis of their age, and have more negative job attitudes and poorer psychological wellbeing.

A survey was conducted and a total of 492 sworn officers (36.1%), protective services offers (14%) and unsworn (49.9%) employees completed the survey. The results revealed that, overall, mature-age workers in the AFP were satisfied and involved in their jobs, and reported low intentions to quit and good psychological health. Despite this positive result, the AFP recognises a key risk for them is the loss of ‘corporately’ valuable skills and knowledge when older workers leave the organisation.

The AFP believes that effectively retaining these invaluable resources and skills is fundamental for it to successfully meet the organisation′s performance, governance, accountability and service delivery outputs. Consequently, the AFP′s strategy for managing mature-age workers (the organisation′s workforce aged 55 and over) is through the following elements:

Flexible working conditions

The AFP offers its mature-age workforce flexible working conditions such as part-time work, job-sharing, and home-based work as this flexibility is a critical aspect of retaining older workers who indicate a stronger commitment to work-life balance. Other flexible strategies used by the AFP include:

  • Temporary transfers to non-operational roles
  • Time out or leave without pay
  • Change of status and responsibilities for example.

Changing status and responsibilities is important to transfer the skills and experience of mature-age members to a variety of roles and business areas. For example, a 64 year old protective service officer is currently successfully completing all the training requirements to become a sworn police officer. This member will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the AFP′s sworn capability and in turn he will be able to maintain job satisfaction.

Maintaining skills, professional development and fitness

If AFP personnel are committed to working beyond the standard retirement age and the organisation can retain these people, it is important that they are provided with targeted learning and professional development to ensure that skills and qualifications are kept up to date and can be benchmarked. The AFP′s mature-age workforce strategies in this area are:

  • Training that can be provided for up-skilling or re-skilling
  • Fitness programs made available at all AFP gymnasiums for
    physical health
  • An Employee Assistance Program available for mental health
  • Employees are encouraged to become mentors to induce
    self-affirmation and to transfer skills and knowledge.

Transfer of skills

The skill sets and experience held by many long-term employees are the product of significant investments in training and development by the AFP, and due to the highly specialist nature of some roles, these skills sets are not easily replaceable but are critical to maintaining organisational capacity.

Engaging mature-age employees who have these skills for coaching and mentoring roles with employees who are at earlier stages in their careers can help to ‘fast track’ the development of the required skills. It also promotes the transfer of less tangible, but useful contextual understandings and insights (including corporate history and practical realities around the interrelationships between policy and real world practice) and handover/introduction of networking contacts. Transferring of skills can be conducted through:

  • The recognition of a broader family definition for the use of
    personal leave, which includes grandchildren and parents
  • Re-engagement post-55 of former staff in mentoring and
    coaching roles
  • Re-engagement of staff post-55 into defined project roles.

Transition to retirement

Research indicates that mature-age workers make their retirement decisions in advance of their retirement age. Early dialogue with these employees could create opportunities for the AFP to influence or negotiate more organisationally beneficial outcomes in relation to retention of employees who have reached retirement age. Assistance for employees in this cohort is achieved by providing them with access to information and financial advisors in relation to relevant superannuation provisions.

Whilst the AFP will continue to refine its policies and provide information, advice, contacts and tool kits to mature-age workers, it is also the responsibility of managers and supervisors to promote such initiatives. Therefore, the organisation is committed to promoting its strategies for managing mature-age workers through various communication channels to educate its management, staff and also the panel members responsible for recruiting potential mature-age people.

Through these mature-age management strategies and continued commitment from management, the AFP will continue to keep its mature-age workforce satisfied and involved with their jobs.