THOUGHT LEADER : The Way We Work; What Do Employers Want to Change about Their Workplaces? That's What Hundreds Were Asked over Two Years by the Human Rights Commission. Dr Judy McGregor Headed the Project

Article excerpt

From windswept Bluff to a Far North battling recession, we turned up as strangers but were made welcome in over 300 workplaces in industries as diverse as mining, IT, through to apple-picking and sheep-shearing.

Called the National Conversation about Work, the EEO (Equal Employment Opportunities) project team from the Equal Employment Commission asked people from all walks of life -- staff, managers, public and private sector businesses -- what they thought would make a difference to the way they earned their daily bread.

The project began in good economic times and spanned the months when New Zealand felt the effects of economic recession and the pain of redundancy.

Why is this the Commission's business? Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells it out: Everyone has the right to work, the right to equal pay for equal work, and the right to a decent income and working conditions.

What did employers tell us?

Many were anxious about age at both ends of the spectrum and uncertain how to respond to the challenges presented by the young and the old in their workforce. Some employers admitted to a strong bias against young people because of their perceived attitudes to work and stereotypes about the lack of a youth work ethic. Some employers believed they have to make a much greater investment in younger people to get them up to speed.

Youth unemployment is generally higher during periods of economic recession, but employers' attitudes towards young people were a marked and worrying feature of the National Conversation about Work.

Many businesses admitted they had their head in the sand when it came to the implications of an aging workforce. For small business-owners, this was reflected in a lack of succession planning. In factories it showed itself as the failure to think through innovative practices around the transition to retirement for older workers.

Many employers said they needed to make more of mentoring so those with experience and skills could help younger workers come up to speed. For the workers themselves, the big issues were about whether or not there were alternatives to fulltime employment or retirement as mutually exclusive choices. …