Businesses need to prepare staff for the changing workplace of the future.

Kiwi companies are being told it is vital they play a role in preparing their employees for the future of work – and one of the groups that could most benefit is, ironically, the baby boomers.

In a world in which staff are expected to be tech-savvy and "fast, flexible and nimble", a key skill companies are also looking for is the ability to have conversations and empathy with customers, which is where mature age workers come in.

"They bring life experience and a high degree of empathy and emotional intelligence," says Suncorp New Zealand's executive general manager of people experience, Catherine Dixon. "They have great rapport with customers and at Suncorp we are looking to increase the number of them working at the frontline.

"While technology is very important, there will be times when customers only want a conversation with a real person."


Dixon's comments follow the release of the 2018 Suncorp New Zealand Business Success Index which, among other findings, shows the human component is still considered by most companies to be the key to growth and success.

But while staff, leadership and management processes were identified as top success factors, nearly half of the companies surveyed (45 per cent) are not anticipating disruption from changing workforce demands – and this, says Dixon, is where large businesses need to play a role in preparing their people for the future.

"Disruption is coming and the key for all business (especially big companies) is to help support its people through this process," she says.

"Even with the greater opportunities it presents, change can be tough. The key is to not ignore it but to be a step ahead, to help people develop capabilities so that if their jobs are replaced through technology they can learn to do something new."

Dixon says one of the findings in the index shows the potential impact of disruptive technology is not top of mind for New Zealand businesses which is both surprising and concerning.

Just 12 per cent of respondents mentioned technology when asked to think about where disruption is happening in business, less than the 18 per cent who cited natural disasters as a cause.

But Dixon says the workplace of the future will be very different from today because of big shifts in a number of areas – the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic technology, changing customer demands and an increased blurring in the roles people will carry out.

"Jobs will not be as defined as they have traditionally been," she says. "Employers will be looking for people with a broader skills base, those who are agile, fast and nimble and able to work anywhere at any time."

Dixon says digitisation is also changing customer expectation: "Traditionally a customer would be given advice, go away and think about it, but today, because they are used to things like internet banking, they want information faster and online.

She says companies need balance in their approach to customers because there are still those seeking more traditional ways of doing business.

"At Suncorp, for example, we employ people across several generations," she says. "Millennials make up about 30 per cent while those 55 and over represent around 14 per cent of our workforce."

"We would like to get that higher especially in our frontline with customers - our strategy for 'mature age workers' is aimed at this.

"But there are also changing expectations among employees themselves, particularly among the millennial generation," she says. "They are looking to see how a company can enhance their careers; they are looking for diverse and different experiences at work.

"Companies in turn don't necessarily expect them to stay for a long period of time – and if they don't give their people these opportunities they will go somewhere else."

Dixon says one way Suncorp helps make work a better experience for its people is through a range of special leave options. Suncorp employees are entitled to paid domestic leave, up to four days of flexible leave a year to get to events like school sports days or to move house and domestic and family violence leave (for those facing or supporting others during especially challenging times).

These are all on top of their annual leave entitlements.

She says measures such as these recognise work is only one part of a person's life - and are consistent with another area of the survey results in which a majority of businesses said they still view work-life balance as important as growth.

More than three-quarters of those surveyed (76 per cent) said this balance was as important as growing their business while staff (73 per cent), leadership (71 per cent) and management processes (70 per cent) were considered the three most important factors in success.

The index says businesses also indicated they want to know how to connect with the right people, access appropriate talent and better leadership skills.

To download the report and discover insights and learnings from Kiwi businesses finding ways to be more confident risk-takers and achieve success on their own terms, in a climate of disruption, visit