NZIM – RESEARCH: Overaged are Underrated – Implications of an Ageing Workforce

We are getting older. And, say the statistics, young Kiwis heading offshore are making matters worse. American futurist Joyce Gioia says, of similarly changing demographic in the United States, that employers must get seriously interested in employing older workers because it makes increasingly good sense to do so. Other options are clearly not yet on the horizon.
So what do New Zealand employers think about this societal shift and how do they rate older workers?
A two-stage study of workforce ageing was set up by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and NZIM to explore employer attitudes to older workers and to find out what actions and adjustments, if any, they are making to meet the challenges the trend presents. What they found, in essence, is that majority of employers are not taking workforce ageing seriously enough, because of either ignorance or complacency. And many employers still actively discriminate against older workers, even though it’s illegal.

Discrimination As the report’s author Judith Davey, director of the Institute for Research on Ageing, said in her conclusion: “Employers must surely be aware of emerging labour shortages, and, by discriminating, they are making the situation worse – creating their own shortages.”
The survey found, not surprisingly, that employers are facing recruitment problems. hefty 85 percent of survey respondents rated the recruiting of staff as either ‘very difficult’, ‘considerably difficult’ or had ‘some difficulty’ recruiting. And two thirds of respondents who took part in mail survey and more than half the interviewees who were subjected to face-to-face questioning, do not expect recruitment to get any easier over the next five years.
So why not retain older workers beyond the time they would normally leave the workforce or, actively recruit older workers? It seems employers generally prefer the work attitudes of “mature” workers but it is not always easy to recruit them. Older workers are described as “stable, diligent, hard working, mature in dealing with clients, respectful of privacy, reliable and loyal”. They also reportedly “bring experience and life skills to the workplace and are more likely to stay in their jobs than younger workers”.
To get older workers to stay on the payroll, more enlightened employers are adopting more flexible work practices such as part-time work and job sharing; flexible working hours (outside rush hours); less demanding hours of work; using them in relieving or casual positions; providing better health support and monitoring; providing assistance for more physical tasks; working from home or local office; using them as mentors and by providing long-term leave.
But part-time workers can cost more, particularly if employers have to supply extra office equipment and facilities and the administrative costs associated with managing them can be higher. Providing additional workplace and time flexibility can be tricky to organise.

Positive attitudes But difficulties associated with employing older workers notwithstanding, the employers surveyed for the study had generally positive attitude toward their more mature employees.
Older workers are, however, often overlooked when it comes to education and training opportunities. Some employers question whether the pay-back periods are long enough to justify the investment. Others are open to training, but with few provisos.
Organisations with mixed age workforces consider them good for business, providing combination of youth and experience and opportunities for mentoring younger staff.
When it came to age discrimination both the respondents and interviewees involved in the survey took broad view. Discrimination can, of course, be directed to people of any age in the workforce, and few organisations had written policies on age discrimination. The issue is generally “taken as read” within other organisational behaviour policies or not considered necessary.
The survey did, however, identify other areas in which respondents appeared to be less “age friendly”. Only one in three, for instance, had superannuation schemes for their workers. This may change in future with KiwiSaver. few provide other benefits for retired staff and less offer pre-retirement advice or planning – unless they are larger organisations which do little better in this area of support.

Retirement How retirement is conceptualised is changing for both employees and employers given the obvious realities of workforce ageing, greater longevity and better health in later life. The study suggests retirement is likely to involve period of transition from full-time work to being completely out of the workforce. And employers need to engage in more “open discussion” about the transition to retirement and the options around it.
HR rules and processes will likely need adjustment to cope with changes in approach. There is unquestionably some reticence about raising the topic of retirement with employees “for fear of this being seen as contrary to anti-age discrimination laws”. The survey suggests most respondents leave it to their employees to make the first move to talk retirement, unless the employee’s competence and work performance are clearly slipping.
Again, according to futurist Gioia, more American employers are becoming aware of the benefits of hiring older workers. They recognise the fact that mature workers bring good experience and skills to the workplace. More importantly, they recognise this is labour pool they will have to pull from. And, she says, many employers in both the private and the public sectors, are enjoying lower [employee] turnover rates among their more mature workers.
And so it is with New Zealand. The ageing of our workforce will continue as smaller groups of younger workers stalk the baby boom bulge through the population.
Those who participated in the NZIM/ IPS study are clearly feeling the effects of tight labour market, increasing scarcity of young and newly trained workers and international competition for skilled staff.
Most expect that recruitment problems will worsen. Davey believes that emerging skills and labour shortages will have serious economic implications “if measures are not taken to improve workforce participation rates and to increase productivity. These are issues which should concern employers, but how they meet the challenge is to considerable extent dependent on their attitudes toward older workers,” she says. “If age is used unthinkingly as an indicator of performance and employability, this may result in negative outcomes for older workers, and ultimately for business and for the economy as whole.”

Reg Birchfield FNZIM is member of NZIM’s National Board.

Visited 2 times, 1 visit(s) today

A focus on culture

Rabobank’s 520-plus New Zealand employees work from 27 locations – places like Ashburton, Pukekohe and Feilding and from a purpose-built head office in Hamilton. Its employees are proud of the

Read More »
Close Search Window