Twin perils of old age

By Raewyn Court

Ageism on the job and not enough cash to retire ... it's tough being a working senior

About 60% of workers above 50 years old say their retirement savings are insufficient. Photo / Thinkstock
About 60% of workers above 50 years old say their retirement savings are insufficient. Photo / Thinkstock

If you're in your golden years and don't think you have enough money saved for a comfortable retirement, you're in good company.

A study by recruitment firm OCG Consulting says only 6 per cent of New Zealand workers aged over 50 have sufficient savings for "financial security" and a "good lifestyle" in retirement.

OCG's report, Coming of Age: the impact of an ageing workforce on New Zealand business, shows the desperate financial situation of many older workers, as well as widespread workplace age discrimination.

The survey of 864 job-seekers and 56 senior business people highlights that by 2031, one million people will be of retirement age, yet six out of 10 workers over 50 today say their retirement savings are insufficient.

OCG chief executive George Brooks says the combination of financial necessity and frequent ageism is leading the country towards a socio-economic crisis as a generation of baby boomers prepare to retire.

"This is a human issue, a business issue and an economic issue," he says.

"It's not enough to say the market will sort it out because our analysis shows the market isn't, and these grim statistics need to be addressed."

The report shows that during the past five years, about 60 per cent of job seekers have seen or experienced age discrimination, including reduced access to promotion, less interesting jobs, lower remuneration and reduced training opportunities.

Brooks says that while similar surveys have shown a degree of discrimination, reports from employers and employees show ageism is more prevalent than realised.

Although close to half of employers agree that older workers are a largely untapped resource, few have strategies for ageing workforce participation.

Brooks says there needs to be a wider appreciation of the value older workers bring to businesses, including knowledge, experience, productivity and ability to handle a crisis.

"Financial need, coupled with ageism, is a very real economic, political and social problem," he says.

"It is individual firms and the workers they employ who make the decision to hire or not to hire an older worker. Solving this problem requires leadership and cultural change."

One company that rejects age discrimination is international beverages company, Frucor New Zealand.

"The age of an applicant, like their gender, is irrelevant," says managing director Mark Callaghan.

"By way of example, we have recently built a new distribution centre and wanted to improve the level of shift leaders.

"We made three hires - a man in his late 30s, a woman in her early 30s and a man in his 50s. What they had in common is that they were the best individuals for the job."

Callaghan believes there are many positive factors in employing an older person, such as experience, maturity, life balance and stability, as well as stickability.

"More mature workers tend to want to build a career with the organisation they are in. That is something we encourage at Frucor."

Half the senior employers surveyed in the OCG report cited negative factors in hiring an older person, including cost, lack of adaptability, health issues, IT illiteracy and lack of ambition.

Callaghan says these factors would be a concern - or at least things to consider - when hiring anyone, irrespective of their age.

"Lack of adaptability is not something that is exclusive to older people. Again, what is most important is the individual and their attitude."

- NZ Herald

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