The findings of a recently released study have shown that employers are unprepared for the impacts of New Zealand’s ageing workforce.
Researchers from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust conducted the report to look into the impact of New Zealand’s ageing workforce.
The study showed that one of the most common ways employers are dealing with skills shortages is by encouraging older workers to continue working past retirement age – but when it came to recruitment, older workers were the most likely to be overlooked.
Many HR directors and managers agreed that there was a “tipping point”, typically at around 50 to 60 years of age, at which workers were seen as less attractive.
The survey also revealed that 45% of organisations were facing a skills shortage, and the same proportion of participants believed that the ageing workforce had the potential to strongly impact both their business and their industry within the next five years.
In spite of this, just over one in four respondents held the view that their managers were not sufficiently prepared to deal with the ageing workforce.
The report also said that workplaces would soon begin to notice “a decreased labour supply, and with it a sudden loss in skills and experience ... while an ageing population will put increasing pressure on health and welfare systems”.
Although workers of retirement age account for just 5% of the workforce, this is expected to increase to 13% by 2036. Just over one in five Kiwi workers are currently aged 55 or older, which is expected to rise to one in four within five years.
Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie, chief executive at the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust, told HRM that employers have an important role to play in debunking some of the myths and negative stereotypes surrounding older workers.
“These days, older workers and their future cohorts are likely to be fitter and healthier than previous generations, technologically savvy – contrary to popular belief, more dedicated, loyal and reliable,” she said. “They come to the role with rich life experiences, and the people skills they have gained in the process can prove invaluable.
Businesses of any size and sector can make the most out of their age diverse workforce through insight and an appreciation of the value each individual brings to the workplace.”
Cassidy-Mackenzie also outlined the strategies employers could consider putting in place.
“Organisations must gather information on their employees’ age profile and needs, then move to implement appropriate strategies for recruitment and retention such as reward systems, training and development, flexible working arrangements, job design and wellbeing,” she suggested. “This in turn will enable their wisdom workers to flourish and prosper and see real benefits for the sustainability of the business.”
According to Cassidy-Mackenzie, discrimination based on age is “still very much alive and kicking in many workplaces across New Zealand and beyond”.
“More than half of the respondents said that the tipping point was 50 years old! In a country which has one of the highest participation rates in the world for over 65s, this position is simply untenable.”
The reasons for people choosing to work past retirement age included income, job satisfaction, mental stimulation, physical activity and a sense of useful contribution.
Many workers’ choices also arose from the increasing availability of part-time work and flexible work arrangements, as well as people remaining in good health for longer, starting families later in life and the superannuation system.
Despite these trends, researchers found that most Kiwi organisations did not have a policy in place to address the issue of ageing workers.
The study’s authors encouraged employers to consider implementing such policies in order to reduce the pervasiveness of negative stereotypes around older workers.