19 Jul 2018

Making the most of mature workers

It’s getting harder to find the right people with the right skills to keep our businesses thriving. The pool of available workers just keeps reducing. New Zealand’s unemployment rate fell to 4.4% in the first quarter of 2018 - the lowest level in a decade. 

The solution is obvious. We need to foster the right culture and conditions for older workers to thrive at work in their later years. Many can and want to work for longer.  

The gains are too important to ignore. 

Businesses benefit from mature workers in many ways:

  • Mature workers pass on institutional knowledge and insights and increase productivity through knowledge sharing with younger workers.
  • Work teams with a mix of age, skills and experience contribute to team stability and cohesion.
  • Innovative thinking often comes from having tried many things. Mature workers can think more laterally with their experience and know-how.  
  • Companies are increasingly selling products and services to silver consumers. Older workers exhibit more customer rapport and understand the buying preferences of older consumers.
  • Mature workers create less hassles and are often prepared to work unsociable hours.  

These gains happen when obstacles faced by mature workers are removed: 

  • inflexible work practices with no opportunity to reduce hours or to compress working weeks. Older workers with carer responsibilities need some flexibility to combine family and work responsibilities. 
  • feeling undervalued when their opinions are ignored
  • being overlooked for new roles or for further training
  • Removing obstacles will encourage more mature workers to continue working beyond the traditional retirement age.  

Here are some tips for creating an age-friendly workplace.

  • Develop a benchmark profile of age, experience and other demographics as a baseline for workforce and succession planning. 
  • Consider changing the mix of age, experience and other demographics for recruiting, retaining and developing employees.
  • Review recruitment procedures to ensure unconscious biases are not creeping into selection processes.
  • Understand the reasons why older workers choose to stay or leave the workplace. You may be missing opportunities to hold onto workers for longer. 
  • Adapt employment conditions and reward schemes to recognise and reward mature workers in ways they value.
  • Invest in appropriate training / upskilling for jobs adapted to mature workers e.g. less physically demanding work, trouble-shooting roles.
  • Foster diverse and inclusive workplace teams where a mix of ages and stages are valued for their combined contribution.
  • Design flexible work environments for all ages to optimise performance at work. 

Take a closer look at how supportive and responsive your culture is to the needs of all employees, including mature workers, to minimise the impact of an ageing workforce on your organisation.  

Not only will your business thrive, our economy and communities will be better off when we reduce dependency and help older workers participate more fully at work and live longer healthier lives.


Mary Somervell

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