Managing New Zealand’s ageing workforce: lessons for Oz?

Professor Tim Bentley

Mature age employees. Older workers. The ageing workforce. Research describes those in the labour market aged 50+ years in a variety of ways – the age at which one enters this cohort is likewise just as opaque! Previous research also highlights negative stereotyping in New Zealand organisations about this cohort, and an unpreparedness to manage it.

Auckland University of Technology’s Professor Tim Bentley shared findings on Wednesday (23 September) from the New Zealand Diversity Survey which garnered the attitudes of managers and older workers from approximately 1000 organisations about the country’s ageing workforce and workplace initiatives  which attempt to respond to such needs.

The Survey (conducted for the EEO Trust Quarterly Diversity Survey) considered sectors such as retail, public administration and safety, education and training, and electricity, gas, water and waste services. Notes Tim:

“…few organisations reported [however] that they had either a policy or programmes and initiatives in place to address the aging [sic] workforce….Of the HR practices in use,…organisations felt training and development was very important in promoting learning in older workers, but they aren’t really thinking about creating new roles, redesigning them, or providing opportunities to transfer to when there is high stress or strenuous work involved….([which is] more appealing to mature employees).”

A sample of 271 managers from these organisations perceived of, and agreed that, mature age workers (compared to those of the general workforce) would be likely to remain in their organisation (78%); were more committed to it (59%); and were more engaged with their work (46%) (just as likely though, 42% neither agreed or disagreed that this was the case). Interestingly, 54% neither agreed or disagreed that this cohort were more productive; only 29% agreed that this was the case.

Of the more than 1200 workers aged 55 years and over who participated in the online survey, perceptions about age discrimination, future plans, job satisfaction, personal health, job design, the nature of the work, its location, financial dependencies and benefits, enjoyment, support initiatives, colleague and customer interaction, stability, leadership and recognition of experience (to name a few) was gathered.

Speaking about workers’ responses, Professor Bentley highlights that:

“Mature age workers are healthy and happy. Few had health, injury or disability issues that affected their work….Sedentary work was not good for older workers’ wellbeing [however] – they want a healthy work environment and a meaningful and challenging role.”

Tim Bentley is Director of the New Zealand Work Research Institute, and Professor of Work and Organisation, Auckland University of Technology. Contact WOW for a copy of Professor Bentley’s PowerPoint presentation: wow@griffith.edu.au or phone 07 3735 3714.