AGEISM IN THE WORK­PLACE

NZ Business - - FROM THE EDITOR - Diane Maxwell is the Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sioner at the Com­mis­sion for Fi­nan­cial Ca­pa­bil­ity.

A re­cent sur­vey found that most busi­nesses agreed that they should take ex­tra steps to at­tract and re­tain older work­ers, view­ing them as an “un­tapped re­source”. Yet 80 per­cent had no spe­cific strate­gies in place and the ma­jor­ity agreed that older work­ers can face bar­ri­ers to be­ing hired be­cause of age. By Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sioner, Diane Maxwell.

A re­cent sur­vey found that most busi­nesses agreed that they should take ex­tra steps to at­tract and re­tain older work­ers, view­ing them as an “un­tapped re­source”. Yet 80 per­cent had no spe­cific strate­gies in place and the ma­jor­ity agreed that older work­ers can face bar­ri­ers to be­ing hired be­cause of age. By Re­tire­ment Com­mis­sioner, Diane Maxwell.

Take a look around your work­place. How many of your em­ploy­ees or col­leagues would you de­fine as an “older worker”? In 20 years’ time, you may be work­ing some­where dif­fer­ent, and the de­mo­graphic of your work­mates will have changed too. A lot more of them will be “older”, be that 55 plus or 65 plus, de­pend­ing on your def­i­ni­tion.

Our view of what’s ‘old’ is evolv­ing, and it needs to. Many 65- year- olds to­day tell me they don’t see them­selves as old, and they see 70 as ‘young- old’.

New Zealand’s pop­u­la­tion is age­ing, and with it, our work­force.

In 1986, the rate of em­ploy­ment among those aged 55- 64 was 49 per­cent; in 2017 it was 82 per­cent for those aged 55- 59 and 74 per­cent for those 60- 64, com­pared to the av­er­age of 67 per­cent for all ages.

The pre­dic­tion is that in 20 years’ time about 400,000 peo­ple aged 65 plus, or one in three, will still be work­ing, and they will rep­re­sent a far greater pro­por­tion of the work­force.

This is go­ing to have a num­ber of knock- on ef­fects for em­ploy­ers, man­agers and their busi­nesses. Many em­ploy­ers tell us they are con­cerned about the im­pact the age­ing work­force, yet few are do­ing any­thing about it.

A sur­vey in May of 500 com­pa­nies by the Com­mis­sion for Fi­nan­cial Ca­pa­bil­ity (CFFC), found most agreed that there was a short­age of highly ex­pe­ri­enced work­ers.

Most had a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to­wards older work­ers, find­ing them no more, or less, re­sis­tant to change than other age groups, and no more likely to have high ab­sen­teeism or sick leave.

Most agreed that busi­nesses should take ex­tra steps to at­tract and re­tain older work­ers, view­ing them as an “un­tapped re­source”.

Yet 80 per­cent had no spe­cific strate­gies or poli­cies in place and the ma­jor­ity agreed that older work­ers can face bar­ri­ers to be­ing hired be­cause of age.

It’s worth chal­leng­ing our­selves with the ques­tion: when was the last time you hired a per­son older than you?

How of­ten does your re­cruit­ment com­pany pass on CVs of ap­pli­cants aged 50 plus?

Ageism is an in­sid­i­ous hu­man trait that some of us may not even recog­nise, it can be bun­dled up in vague ref­er­ences to a can­di­date not be­ing ‘quite the right fit’. We need to ac­knowl­edge it and call it out, and then do some­thing about it.

Em­ploy­ers are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a wors­en­ing short­age of labour sup­ply with 65 per­cent say­ing there is, or soon will be, a skills short­age in their re­spec­tive sec­tor.

For ex­am­ple, with al­most 24 per­cent of New Zealand’s work­force al­ready aged 55- plus years, there are only four to five teach­ers or nurses to re­place ev­ery 10 that will re­tire.

We’re not alone. New Zealand’s age­ing work­force is part of a global trend. It’s a pre­dictable de­mo­graphic change that we can’t af­ford to ig­nore, and that should be faced not as a cri­sis, but as an op­por­tu­nity.

Con­trary to the ‘ lump of labour fal­lacy’ that older work­ers take jobs from younger peo­ple, re­tain­ing older em­ploy­ees feeds eco­nomic growth and cre­ates more jobs for ev­ery­one. There are sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic gains to be made in higher tax re­ceipts, spend­ing, and less reliance on govern­ment trans­fers.

Then there is the sheer ex­pe­ri­ence that older work­ers bring to the table, their ma­tu­rity in the work­place, and will­ing­ness to pass their skills on to the younger gen­er­a­tion.

Work­ers tell us that some of them will need to work past 65, but many will sim­ply want to.

They value the so­cial con­nec­tion, the sense of worth and pur­pose, and the ex­tra money that will give them more choices.

Their needs are rel­a­tively sim­ple: more flex­i­bil­ity, maybe work­ing part­time, maybe with more leave. And some will want to up­skill and re­train to fill dif­fer­ent roles.

As our work­force is age­ing, it is also chang­ing. Peo­ple no longer ex­pect to re­main in one job for years and years; the ‘gig econ­omy’ means work­ers are shift­ing more, con­tract­ing more, and our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will move through sev­eral ca­reers across a life­time.

We are see­ing less of the ‘gold watch’ mo­ment where peo­ple shift from full time work to full re­tire­ment in a day. There are many tran­si­tion years in the mid­dle where we want to work a bit dif­fer­ently but still stay ac­tive.

Em­ploy­ers will need to have those con­ver­sa­tions as they at­tempt to re­cruit older work­ers, and work to re­tain them. But at the mo­ment we seem to have a stand- off be­tween man­agers re­luc­tant to broach the sub­ject of age­ing and tran­si­tion for fear of be­ing seen to be push­ing older work­ers out the door, and older work­ers not want­ing to go there for fear of be­ing ex­ited.

CEOs, boards and man­agers need to start think­ing strate­gi­cally and plan­ning for how to make those con­ver­sa­tions, and the ar­range­ments that come out of them, as nat­u­ral as in­duc­tions and per­for­mance re­views.

It should be part of their hu­man re­source of­fer­ing and fac­tored in to a plan­ning cy­cle.

Whether we’re an em­ployer, man­ager or some­one in a busi­ness that serves older work­ers, we need to be pre­pared for a fu­ture with many more of them, and that won’t hap­pen with­out ac­tively and in­ten­tion­ally ad­dress­ing the is­sues.

We will come to ap­pre­ci­ate older col­leagues as much as they ap­pre­ci­ate com­ing to work.

Ageism is an in­sid­i­ous hu­man trait that some of us may not even recog­nise, it can be bun­dled up in vague ref­er­ences to a can­di­date not be­ing ‘quite the right fit’. We need to ac­knowl­edge it and call it out, and then do some­thing about it."

Diane Maxwell.

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