09 Nov 2019

A better working life - sooner and later

Longevity is bringing into sharp focus our changing demographic landscape as we look towards a future with more people aged over 65 than under 15 years. Rural regions of New Zealand will face this change sooner than larger cities.  

An unintended consequence of this demographic shift seems to be pitting younger and older generations against one another. Case in point – “OK, boomer” – a phrase getting lots of traction on Twitter. 

The reality is younger and older generations have a lot more in common than we think. And we will achieve so much more by working together.  

Intergenerational connections reduce misunderstandings.   

When generations come together to share knowledge and different perspectives our ageist attitudes melt away.

Older adults are just as diverse as the younger population with more differences within than between age groups.  

Lack of contact between different age groups fuels discrimination. Increased exposure to other age groups reduces prejudices when individuals start talking to one another.

Workers of all ages want the same things.

Older workers and younger workers are seeking the same things - meaning and purpose, intellectually stimulating work, flexible working options and social engagement in age inclusive teams.

Flexible working arrangements have cross generational appeal for parents with young children, family caregivers and older workers. 

Age inclusive workplaces have a competitive edge.

Organisations that create age inclusive workplaces have a competitive edge when they meet the career aspirations and needs of workers across life stages. 

Age diverse teams that balance youth and maturity tend to be more engaged, more innovative and more productive.

Collaboration within mixed age teams brings worker and employer gains including two way mentoring, generating more ideas and creative solutions to workplace challenges.  

Lifelong learning is critical to the changing nature of work.

Artificial intelligence, robotics and automation will displace many workers. New jobs will be created requiring more upskilling and retraining throughout our working lives.

Labour and skills shortages are not going away. More older workers will be needed as fewer school leavers, apprentices and graduates enter the workforce. 

Purposeful activities extend beyond paid work.

Older adults make valuable social and community contributions as volunteers, unpaid caregivers, funders and consumers. 

Many older adults choose to use their skills and experience to help others, some combine work with volunteering, caring for others (sometimes younger and older generations combined) and spending more time with family. 

The longevity economy benefits all.

Older people generate significant economic contributions as consumers, workers, and business owners. 

Their consumption of a wide range of goods and services is expanding rapidly and the economic value will only increase with more technological advances.   

Age is a continuum.

The younger workers of today will be the older workers of tomorrow. We have some daunting challenges and opportunities on the horizon like climate change, automation, AI as well as the diverse needs of an ageing population. 

We are all in this together. By working together collaboratively we will achieve better outcomes.


The recent government strategy launch of A Better Later Life - He Oranga Kaumatua - has the vision ‘Older New Zealanders lead valued, connected and fulfilled lives’.

We do need to open up more learning opportunities for older adults to retrain and upskill and remove barriers to employment and community engagement recognising the diversity of older people. But having said that,

My vision is for all New Zealanders to lead valued, connected and fulfilled lives. 


Mary Somervell

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