IN TOUCH : Diana Crossan on older-friendly work strategies

Workplace discrimination is one of the biggest issues for older New Zealanders in the workplace, and this has been reinforced in recent international survey – the Kelly Global Workforce Index.
The survey found that almost half of all New Zealanders have experienced workplace discrimination, and older workers were nine percent more likely to feel they had been discriminated against on the basis of age than workers aged under 24.
With this in mind, the Retirement Commission and the Human Rights Commission hosted summit in September on the employment of older workers.
The summit was the first step to developing National Strategy for the Employment of Older Workers to help older people gain the “right to work and the right to retire”. These are not only critical matters for individuals, but also for the economy which is experiencing growing labour and skills shortages.
To put the demographics into context, by 2051:
•more than quarter of New Zealand’s population will be over 65 (12 percent today);
•45 percent of the working population will be aged between 45 and 64 (35 percent today).
The changing demographics mean that attitudes towards older workers – both employers and individuals – must change if the nation is to plug the growing labour and skills shortage.
There is anecdotal evidence that some older workers are leaving the workforce before they are ready as result of pressure from their employer – or because the older worker believes younger people have more to offer.
But it’s lose-lose situation when highly skilled and experienced worker retires too early. The cost for employers is not only financial one of replacing skilled, experienced worker but also the loss of loyal staff member. For older workers, leaving work early often has negative impact on their social and financial wellbeing.
The objective of the National Strategy for the Employment of Older Workers is to stop age discrimination so people are accepted for their experience, skills and what they bring to job, rather than being judged on their age.
The summit was the first step in developing this strategy. It was well attended by many organisations including government agencies, researchers, community representatives and individual older workers.
All agreed that age discrimination against older workers was major issue. The development of the strategy will be led by the Department of Labour, Ministry of Social Development, Business New Zealand and the Council of Trade Unions, who will be working together in coming months to allocate tasks.
Because the strategy will focus on changing the attitudes and behaviour of employers and employees, it is likely that there will be action plans for both managers and workers covering recruitment, training and retention.
Some organisations are already making positive changes and core part of the strategy is likely to be gathering these examples and disseminating them to all employers.
It is likely that the strategy will encourage changes in the workplace, for example:
•flexible work programmes such as working fewer weeks or months per year;
•transfers to other branches / regions / countries for fixed term;
•older workers brought in for sabbaticals to mentor younger workers;
•self-funded leave with reduction in monthly income;
•life-long learning programmes for all workers; and
•managed, predictable paths for exits and entrances.
While the strategy will bring about significant changes for older workers, all working New Zealanders will benefit from these changes. Just as conditions improved for everyone when women entered the workforce, the employment of more older people will enable New Zealanders to enjoy more flexible workplace, no matter what age they are.
•For more information on the summit and to read the speakers’ presentations, visit the Retirement Commission’s website www.retirement.org.nz.

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