Overaged Are Underrated: Implications of an Ageing Workforce: Our Workforce Is Ageing. What Does This Mean for Employers and for the Economy in General? the New Zealand Institute of Management and the Institute of Policy Studies Have Completed an Intriguing Research Study. Reg Birchfield Summarises Its Findings

By Birchfield, Reg | New Zealand Management, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Overaged Are Underrated: Implications of an Ageing Workforce: Our Workforce Is Ageing. What Does This Mean for Employers and for the Economy in General? the New Zealand Institute of Management and the Institute of Policy Studies Have Completed an Intriguing Research Study. Reg Birchfield Summarises Its Findings


Birchfield, Reg, New Zealand Management


We are getting older. And, say the statistics, young Kiwis heading offshore are making matters worse. American futurist Joyce Gioia says, of a similarly changing demographic in the United States, that employers must get seriously interested in employing older workers because it makes increasingly good sense to do so. Other options are clearly not yet on the horizon.

So what do New Zealand employers think about this societal shift and how do they rate older workers?

A two-stage study of workforce ageing was set up by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) and NZIM to explore employer attitudes to older workers and to find out what actions and adjustments, if any, they are making to meet the challenges the trend presents. What they found, in essence, is that a majority of employers are not taking workforce ageing seriously enough, because of either ignorance or complacency. And many employers still actively discriminate against older workers, even though it's illegal.

DISCRIMINATION As the report's author Judith Davey, director of the Institute for Research on Ageing, said in her conclusion: "Employers must surely be aware of emerging labour shortages, and, by discriminating, they are making the situation worse--creating their own shortages."

The survey found, not surprisingly, that employers are facing recruitment problems. A hefty 85 percent of survey respondents rated the recruiting of staff as either 'very difficult', 'considerably difficult' or had 'some difficulty' recruiting. And two thirds of respondents who took part in a mail survey and more than half the interviewees who were subjected to face-to-face questioning, do not expect recruitment to get any easier over the next five years.

So why not retain older workers beyond the time they would normally leave the workforce or, actively recruit older workers? It seems employers generally prefer the work attitudes of "mature" workers but it is not always easy to recruit them. Older workers are described as "stable, diligent, hard working, mature in dealing with clients, respectful of privacy, reliable and loyal". They also reportedly "bring experience and life skills to the workplace and are more likely to stay in their jobs than younger workers".

To get older workers to stay on the payroll, more enlightened employers are adopting more flexible work practices such as part-time work and job sharing; flexible working hours (outside rush hours); less demanding hours of work; using them in relieving or casual positions; providing better health support and monitoring; providing assistance for more physical tasks; working from home or a local office; using them as mentors and by providing long-term leave.

But part-time workers can cost more, particularly if employers have to supply extra office equipment and facilities and the administrative costs associated with managing them can be higher. Providing additional workplace and time flexibility can be tricky to organise.

POSITIVE ATTITUDES But difficulties associated with employing older workers notwithstanding, the employers surveyed for the study had a generally positive attitude toward their more mature employees.

Older workers are, however, often overlooked when it comes to education and training opportunities. Some employers question whether the pay-back periods are long enough to justify the investment. Others are open to training, but with a few provisos. …

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Overaged Are Underrated: Implications of an Ageing Workforce: Our Workforce Is Ageing. What Does This Mean for Employers and for the Economy in General? the New Zealand Institute of Management and the Institute of Policy Studies Have Completed an Intriguing Research Study. Reg Birchfield Summarises Its Findings
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