10 May 2018

Exploding myths about older workers and ageing

Most New Zealand regions will soon have more elderly (65 plus) than children (0-14 years). This has significant implications for future labour force participation rates. For example, the 65 plus age group will account for all of Nelson’s future population growth.

It’s time to explode some current myths about our attitudes towards work and ageing. Here are six of them.

Myth 1: Older workers prefer to retire when they reach 65

A recent BNZ survey found just the opposite. Over 50% of New Zealand workers expect to work past retirement age. Some continue to work because they have to but many more choose to work to feel valued and occupied. Older well educated workers offer valuable experience and will be essential to develop and mentor younger workers.  

Many who decide to work beyond 65 are doing so on their own terms. This group desires more flexibility and work that provides meaning and purpose. Some prefer working part-time to free up time for community volunteering, for travel and devoting more time to family and friends.

We need to accommodate longer working lives and adapt how workplaces are organised.

Myth 2: Older workers are shutting out younger workers

Variations of this myth have been around for decades. The reality is new jobs and new opportunities are created all the time. For example, with the trend towards online purchases, we will see less retail shop workers but more people operating on-line retail businesses.   

The size of the employment pie is not and has never been static. It can expand when older entrepreneurs create more jobs for younger workers and there is more inter-generational business collaboration.

Sometimes younger workers are not prepared to work unsociable shifts (evenings, weekends) so older workers step up to do the work. 

Myth 3: Older workers are less creative and innovative

We tend to think of entrepreneurs as young tech-savvy individuals. But the reality is quite different. Over 50s dominate start-up businesses and have a better track record for continued success.  

The highest rate of start-up businesses in USA occurs for 55-64 year olds and these businesses are most likely to succeed. A third of Australian new business owners are over 55 years of age. In New Zealand the number of self-employed aged 50 and older has increased over the last decade while the number of self-employed 20 to 39 year olds has declined. 

Myth 4: Older workers are less adaptable

Change is not a new phenomenon for baby boomers (emerging older workers). Most have coped with a multitude of economic and structural changes during their careers. Many are on their third career change already.

Some mature workers are choosing to retrain for new careers. Many are looking at flexible alternatives for coaching and mentoring the next generation. Not such a new idea – in Maori society this is what Kaumatua have done for some time.

Employers need to explore more ways to keep older workers engaged. Remote working can offer more flexibility and better work/life balance for baby boomers as well as millennials.  

Myth 5: Older people are a drain on the economy

Adults do not move from being active contributors to the economy to being a drain on the economy when they reach the traditional retirement age. Some become active investors in local businesses.

Older workers have transferable skills and a wealth of experience. Boomers and millennials can learn a lot from each other as partners – combining the digital intelligence and enthusiasm of younger workers with the emotional intelligence and wisdom of older workers.

Myth 6: Older people live sedentary lifestyles and are set in their ways

An increasing number of older people are looking for new thrills and new experiences later in life. The 50 plus Harley Davidson brigade is a case in point. Older travellers are seeking new adventures in more exotic destinations like Colombia, Antarctica and Galapagos Islands – not to mention acting as conservation volunteers in remote parts of New Zealand.

Older adults are embracing new technology. The booming e-bike market and purchase of electric cars are being driven by energy-savvy older consumers.

There is a silver lining to ageing populations with exciting opportunities for new markets to respond to their varied needs.

By creating more opportunities for mature workers to stay active and involved we will inject more spending power into our economy and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Mary
Author

Mary Somervell

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