RETIREES TO THE RESCUE
Elderly workers are increasingly opting to retire later, with implications for their employers. Julie Iles reports.
WITH more New Zealanders working into their retirement and an ageing population, companies need to figure out how they can keep their older workers happy, or risk bearing the brunt of an oncoming skills shortage.
At 76, Tom Druskovich is Fletcher Building Group’s longest-serving employee and works five days a week at a Fletcher-owned Dimond store, a steel roofing and cladding distributor in Onehunga.
‘‘It keeps me occupied, busy, up,’’ he says. ‘‘Like most Aucklanders, I’m only on a tiny section at home so I’d have to go wandering the streets if I didn’t work because there’s not much to do around home.’’
Druskovich said he never imagined his first job at Fletcher Building Group – working at their timber company for 36 cents an hour – would lead to a career with the company.
But 60 years later Druskovich has no plans to retire. ‘‘My criteria is this: I’ll carry on working as long as I’m happy to come to work and my health stays good.’’
Growing numbers of superannuitants are working in supermarkets, driving buses or staying longer in the construction and agricultural sector.
At Countdown, where the oldest employee is 83, 1600 of its 18,000 staff are over the age of 60.
General manager of people and culture Lauren Voyce said older workers offered a lot of value through their ‘‘institutional knowledge’’.
‘‘By 2050 there’s predicted to be 1.1 million people over the age of 65, so while many companies are focused on millennials I think it’s important to think beyond that.’’
The growth in elderly workers has been a surprise. According to the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation, 22 per cent of retirement-age people were working in 2016, compared to only 12 per cent 10 years earlier – an 87 per cent increase.
This figure has continued to rise, with 24.4 per cent of those over 65 working in December 2017, Statistics New Zealand data shows.
Older people are also earning less as they age. Auckland University senior lecturer Michael Fletcher said research he did in 2015 at the Work Research Institute found that as workers got older, they were more likely to earn lower wages.
About 30 per cent of workers over 60 were paid less than twothirds of New Zealand’s median wage, the same as those between 25 and 29 years old.
‘‘Either this is because workers that had low paying jobs their whole lives have to continue working to get savings, or there are more workers choosing more flexible schedules,’’ Fletcher said.
More also needs to be done to keep older workers safe at work, research has shown.
A recent study, conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Otago, also found older workers represented a
‘‘significant burden’’ on Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and that between 2009 and 2013, more than one in five accepted ACC claims for traumatic work injuries were made by workers aged 55 to 79 years old.
Companies are quickly realising that as the number of New Zealand workers approaching retirement age rises, they need be prepared.
Following a demographic report in 2013, energy retailer Vector realised almost a quarter of their employees were over 55.
Diversity Works chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie said many companies had created job sharing and mentoring midtier management positions for those over 55.
‘‘Believe it or not, in this day and age still, managers see aging workers with a lot more experience as a threat to their career progression. But that’s not actually the case.
‘‘Aging workers have already had their career and they’re just really happy to be involved and pass down their institutional knowledge.’’
Some organisations saw no point in professional development for older staff, but this was a mistake. ‘‘Older workers have emphasised in our research that they want to be trained on the job.’’
Countdown’s oldest employee, Angela Tvrdeic says she is ‘‘83 years young’’.
She has worked in the supermarket chain’s Greymouth shop for 30 years and while she knows she can’t stay forever, she is sure she will ‘‘go for a little longer’’ at the register.
‘‘A lot of my friends were counting down to 65 and couldn’t wait to go, but I don’t see why you’d have to go, as long as you’re healthy.’’
In fact, Tvrdeic says she is sure that working into retirement has kept her sharper and healthier.
‘‘I had been up to a hospital the other day just for a bit of a check and the nurse could not believe that I was 83.’’
While the finish line on Tvrdeic’s career still seems out of sight, she says the only thing she would be doing more of in retirement is spending more time with her grandkids.
‘‘But working part-time gives me a chance to do a fair bit of that anyhow.’’
A lot of my friends were counting down to 65 and couldn’t wait to go, but I don’t see why you’d have to go, as long as you’re healthy.’ ANGELA TVRDEIC While many companies are focused on millennials, I think it’s important to think beyond that. COUNTDOWN’S GENERAL MANAGER OF PEOPLE AND CULTURE, LAUREN VOYCE