Australia can learn from New Zealand’s older workforce

| June 25, 2019

There’s a lot we can learn from the Kiwis about how we keep our older employees in the workforce, according to an Edith Cowan University (ECU) workplace expert.

According to the OECD, 78.8 per cent of New Zealand workers aged 55 to 64 are employed while in Australia it’s just 64.1 per cent.

ECU’s School of Business and Law Professor Stephen Teo said one of the big reasons behind that difference is Australians don’t place the same value on diversity as our cousins across the ditch.

But Professor Teo said culturally older people in Australian workplaces seem to stand out more than they do in New Zealand and are treated differently by colleagues and management.

“Organisations must do more to support, engage and retain older workers as our populations’ age – both here and in New Zealand,” he said.

Four quick fixes

Professor Stephen Teo said there are four easy fixes for any firms wanting to retain older workers:

·         Flexible working arrangements.

·         Training for managers and recruitment staff in recognising age bias.

·         Senior management should champion positive attitudes towards older workers.

·         Introducing mentoring programs between older and younger workers.

What the research tells us

A new research paper co-authored by Professor Teo found that workers aged 55 and over were more likely to stay in their job if they felt they were being supported by their workplace, were engaged with their work and did not face discrimination.

The study surveyed 1238 workers in New Zealand aged 55 years and older about the factors that influenced their likelihood to remain working with their organisation.

“Our research found workers who feel supported by their workplace and not discriminated against are far more likely to remain with their employer,” he said.

“This seems fairly obvious but in practice there’s plenty of evidence that firms aren’t doing this very well.

“Many managers are not supportive of new ways of thinking, such as flexible work hours, and have outdated views on the value of older workers to their organisation.

“Our research showed half of workers surveyed had been with their current employer for more than 11 years and a small percentage (3.9 per cent) for more than 40 years.

“That’s a huge amount of corporate knowledge that could be lost.”

The message from across the Tasman

Massey University’s Professor Tim Bentley was lead author on the research and said there was a negligible cost to implementing policies supporting older workers.

“Workplace flexibility and appropriate recognition and respect for older workers doesn’t cost a thing,” he said.

“They’re just good practice for organisations wanting to engage and retain workers of any age.”

Professor Bentley said New Zealand and Australia are culturally very similar despite the difference in older workers staying in their jobs.

The Australian Human Rights Commission Employing Older Workers Report backs up Professor Teo’s recommendations for boosting employment among older workers.

‘Factors influencing leave intentions among older workers: a moderated-mediation model’ was published in Personnel Review and can be accessed at the journal’s webpage.

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