It's an age-old problem. Once they hit the age of 50 to 55 many workers find they're discriminated against. Yet few Kiwi workers have enough money saved to leave the workforce.

Whilst the country needs you, and many larger organisations have good human resources policies, it's no good if you can't get a foot in the door.

Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell receives emails every week from people in their 50s and 60s who have lost their jobs and can't land another one.

The Commission for Financial Capability, which Maxwell leads, received more than 5,000 comments from people last year from a digital survey as part of the 2016 Review of Retirement Income Policies. Many said they had sent out CV after CV and couldn't even get an interview.


One correspondent in particular sticks in Maxwell's mind.

"She said to me: 'I can't get a job. I am using up all my savings. I can't even get an interview. I am renting, I can't buy and hope and I hope I don't live much longer'," says Maxwell.

Another commented that people in his position were a disenfranchised category in the economy because they couldn't get a job. "This means a gap of some 8-10 years of floating between employment and pensionable age," he wrote.

We are losing experience in the professional and technical world in favour of youth.

He pointed out that despite being a "professional, multilingual , global, research /project manager/chemist/marketing manager" ageism stood in his way. Some of the jobs he had applied for could have been written around his CV.

"We are losing experience in the professional and technical world in favour of youth and I cannot tell you how sick I am of getting a reply stating that we are looking at 'more appropriate' people for the position. For more appropriate read 'younger'," he says.

So ingrained is this ageism in our society that when Maxwell talks to journalists about 50 to 70 year olds, the article or TV segment is usually illustrated with a picture of an 80 or 90 year old.

A lot of the roadblock lies with the conscious and unconscious bias of recruitment consultants and hiring staff that simply won't put the CVs of a 50 or 60-year-old forward. "It drives me nuts," says Maxwell, who hates the satirical stereotype that someone in their 50s and 60s might be using a Zimmer frame.

Applicants in that age bracket are often more experienced, more settled and a better employee. Maxwell herself was interviewing candidates for a position and found one 60-something applicant to be far more dynamic and energetic than another in her 30s.


One irony, says Maxwell is that too many "young" or "dynamic" organisations that believe younger is better when it comes to employees are in fact selling products and services to people of all ages, but don't actually understand their market because they only employ young people.

She cites the example of makeup counters. At 50 Maxwell is statistically likely to spend more on face creams and makeup than a younger customer, yet she doesn't want a 25-year-old assistant telling her that silver is the new in thing. So she doesn't go.

Ageism hitting workers as young as 50 isn't just a New Zealand- problem. Massey Business School professor of work and organisation Timothy Bentley and colleagues have just written up the New Zealand experience for The Aging Workforce Handbook, published in February, covering the role of human resource practices and how that affects the continuing work participation of older workers.

Among OECD countries, New Zealand recorded the second highest employment rate of people aged 55-64 and the third highest of people aged 65-69, says Bentley.

Bentley's research looked at older workers' perceptions and experiences of work and HR factors that influenced their engagement and retention in work.

The research found that whilst there were good systems in place in many HR departments, the reality was that across organisations negative stereotypes about older workers still persisted, based on biases and age discriminatory behaviour in relation to:

* job assignments

* opportunities for individual promotion

* performance evaluation

* opportunities for personal and professional development of employees

* daily leadership of older workers

Bentley says it's ironic that organisations would still rather employ someone in their 30s and 40s, whereas that person is more likely to turn over more quickly. Likewise someone in their 50s may work for another 20 years, yet employers won't pay to train them.

Bentley says it can be even harder for medium and smaller organisations and he believes that membership organisations such as the Chambers of Commerce have a role to play educating employers about the needs and qualities of older workers and their role in the workforce. He adds that recruitment agencies also need to lose the unconscious bias.

Ultimately, however, we're holding ourselves back as a country if we believe that because workers have reached a certain age it is not worth employing them or spending organisational resources training and promoting them.