The job market does not support older adults in the workforce as much as it could. There is a lingering perception that older workers do not have up-to-date skills and attitudes, especially in terms of technology and overtime. These perceptions are often incorrect; however, they do create a major barrier for older adults in the workplace. In the view of former Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec, “It used to be that anyone over 50 was considered a liability. Now it’s probably affecting anyone over 40.”
With people living longer and sometimes experiencing 20 to 30 years of ‘retirement’, this opens up a whole new space in which to engage in meaningful work and activity. This work of course does not have to be paid – older people are a large percentage of the unpaid workforce. However there are still people who want (or need) to stay in paid work. The employment of older workers benefits the older workers themselves and society in general. Work at older ages is likely to lead to higher retirement incomes and standards of living, improved physical and mental health, social connectedness and interaction, social status and respect, possibilities for lifelong learning and development, and the ability to stay active. Working for longer might even help us live longer – see here!
On the other side of the ditch, Australia provides a financial incentive of up to $10,000 to encourage businesses to hire and retain employees who are 50 years of age and over.
New Zealand does not provide any such incentives or programmes to encourage older people to stay in the workforce. But as our population ages, perhaps it should be planning for this. There needs to be a lift in awareness among employers of the value of older workers’ experience and productivity. This includes raising awareness of the importance of work organisation and the learning environment.
Employers who realise the importance of this experience and give support to older adults wanting to stay in or return to the workforce can tap into a goldmine of potential just waiting to be uncovered.