Magazine article New Zealand Management

"When I Get Older, Losing My Hair, Many Years from Now."

Magazine article New Zealand Management

"When I Get Older, Losing My Hair, Many Years from Now."

Article excerpt

The Beatles' song When I'm 64 nicely captures many people's fears about the ageing process, although not surprisingly, didn't touch on employment issues. Angst about age-related employment issues is on the rise, however, which is no doubt linked to the fact that New Zealanders are staying in paid work for longer. The number of over 65s participating in the labour market was around six percent in 1991 and is projected to increase to around 20 percent by 2016. Employers need to respond by maximising the potential of an ageing workforce, especially in a labour market short of skilled workers. However, employers may also find themselves facing challenges, particularly where they consider an older employee's performance has started to decline.

PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT In the perception of some employers, performance issues with older employees are often linked to a gradual decline in enthusiasm and performance as some employees approach and pass the "normal" retirement age. However, sometimes an employer's perceptions of deteriorating performance are exactly that--perceptions.

Thirty-one percent of respondents to a 2006 EEO Trust survey reported experiencing some form of age discrimination at work. Older respondents complained of being targeted for redundancy due to their age. This is not to suggest that discrimination does not affect younger workers, but as employees stay in the workplace for longer, the issue will increasingly relate to older staff.

Performance concerns in relation to older staff should be managed in the same way as for other employees. Provided this is done fairly and with sensitivity, there is no reason to fear an age-discrimination claim.

The requirements of employers in terms of managing and if necessary disciplining and dismissing poor performers are well established. In summary, it is essential to set clear standards and monitor performance against these, providing feedback and assistance where needed.

If the employee's performance does not improve, formal action can then be taken. This can include warning(s)--following a proper disciplinary process--and down the track, dismissal.

RETIREMENT/DEMOTION Compulsory retirement in New Zealand amounts to age discrimination, as well as unjustified dismissal, and is therefore unlawful (subject to certain rules relating to employment relationships existing prior to 1 April 1992).

It is also unlawful to subject an employee to a detriment by reason of a prohibited ground of discrimination, including age. The Court of Appeal recently considered this issue in Air New Zealand v McAlister. McAlister was employed as a flight instructor which required him to maintain his Pilot in Command (PIC) status. …

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