NZ employees are getting older — but it’s a good thing if bosses are wise about it

Commentaries on the future of work are dominated by the theme of the ageing of society and the workforce.

And in New Zealand, the statistics speak for themselves. Among OECD countries, New Zealand recorded the second highest employment rate of people aged 55-64 years in 2012 and 2013, and third highest of people aged 65-69 years in 2012.

This proportion will continue to rise and by 2030, 25 per cent of the workforce will be over 55.

Professor Tim Bentley is director of NZ Work Research Institute and lead author of the recently released Managing an Ageing Workforce Report, a programme conducted in conjunction with the Equal Employment Opportunities Trust.


"We start thinking about people beginning to age in a work sense when they're over 50 because they're beginning to think about retirement," Professor Bentley said.

"Yet the thing is," he adds, laughing, " I don't feel like I'm part of the target audience either," alluding to his own over-50 status.

Professor Bentley's statements have that ring of truth. Many baby boomers do not feel they are "in that bracket" of the older worker, "but the reality is, here I am".

"I had a boss once, when I was a middle manager. The organisation needed to downsize. And this boss said to me, 'Tim, go and knock on all the doors of everyone over 60 and ask them if they'll consider taking a voluntary redundancy.' I was staggered that the decision would be so arbitrary."

He says the over 50s and 60s are some of the best people in the workforce. But there are still stereotypes that do not hold up in the light of day.

"The reality is that older workers are a real advantage in the workplace. To assume that they only have a certain range of skills is a nonsense. It's a real slap in the face for them to have that attitude around.

"Why should someone be laid off for purely chronological purposes? It's outmoded but these stereotypes do persist."

Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie, the chief executive of the EEO Trust, agrees.


She says NZ businesses need to focus on how to retain the talent and institutional knowledge of older workers. Smart employers recognise they need to hold on to ageing workers and transfer their knowledge down the pipeline to new employees.

"Organisations need to be having courageous conversations with employees of all ages, not just those nearing retirement."

As the large numbers of baby boomers retire, New Zealand's labour supply will decrease, and there will be a sudden loss in skills and experience.

Ms Cassidy-Mackenzie says the trust is involved with organisations in all sorts of ways, talking to them about their strategies to prepare for these changes.

"For instance, New Zealand Steel is committed to increasing diversity in their workplace and to involve more young women in the industry.

"The company has an initiative where semi-retired and retired male engineers - aged between 55 and 70 years with experience spanning several decades - are being brought back to mentor young women engineers. It's been very successful - a real win-win situation - for both parties."


On an individual level, Professor Bentley says baby boomers need to change the way they think about participation in the workforce.

"Whatever you do," he says, "don't leave it until you're 65 or just before to think about these things."

Post-50 job tips to focus on

Don't be afraid to put yourself forward for training and development

The thought that you won't be offered it shouldn't even enter your head. Don't think: I'm 60 or whatever, I'm too old, I'm not going to take on new learning.

Don't deprive yourself of new job opportunities
When the memo comes round advertising a position -- put up your hand. There's no real evidence that you won't get it. As the workforce continues to change, managers are going to view everyone positively who has the right attitude.

Stop thinking about retirement
Don't think about stopping forever. We are likely to graduate our retirement. We get too much positivity out of work to stop. Even if the job itself is not very challenging, the social interaction in the workforce is very positive. Don't head for 65 as if it's a target.


Keep your options open and be flexible
Take control of your career. Keep all possibilities on the table. Consider flexible work options. There are many benefits of working from home. It's more relaxing and good for well-being and you can keep working from home a bit longer. It gives you time to play with the grandchildren, go cycling, play golf. Start thinking about it now, if you're 50, 55, or over. Ask yourself: How do I want to do this? Employers are starting to get this notion of flexible work and realise the benefits on both sides. Flexibility is a key concept for new millennium working.

It's not just about financial planning it's about all-of-life planning
Aim for a long and active life. Focus on your psychological and physical health as well as your financial health. These are all measures you need to consider. If necessary, talk to someone who can encourage you to think about your options. To ask you, "How do I visualise alternative future scenarios?" Speak to someone who can encourage you to explore all options.