When it comes to work, does age matter?
Like most of the developed world, New Zealand has an ageing population.
By 2036, it’s projected:
– Around one in 4.5 New Zealanders will be aged 65-plus
– That’s 1,258,500 million people
– Or a 77% increase on 2016 numbers
Contrast that with the under 14’s, who are projected to increase by only 8%. It’s no wonder government departments, marketers and businesses are turning their attention to the ‘silver tsunami’.
In our recent article Generation Z: Is your workplace ready? we talked about the younger workers and their needs. Now we’re asking, is your workplace ready for older workers? And are the needs of the old and the young in the workplace so very different?
What do we know about older workers (50 plus)
For a start, these days 50 doesn’t seem old, does it? In fact, some say 60 is the new 40. And according to Gensler Research, today’s 50 to 60-year-olds don’t see themselves as “old” and don’t view ageing as a time of physical decline. The “actively ageing” are leading lifestyles that are anything but traditionally “senior”— they’re better educated than any of their predecessors and are well-connected and tech-enabled.
The Welcoming Workplace study revealed that while older knowledge workers may be compromised in the office environment by the inevitable effects of ageing on vision, hearing, posture, memory, balance and dexterity, they tend to compensate cognitively in terms of wisdom, experience and decision making. They are also flexible learners – having adapted to several waves of business and technological change over lengthy careers.
For businesses, this experience, desire to keep working and making valuable contributions well into traditional retirement age is a bonus. But also presents some challenges.
Physical considerations for older workers
As we age, there are physical implications that come into play such as:
Vision declines as you age. Older workers often cannot read as well as they once did from certain distances and with lower levels of lighting.
Hearing generally begins to decline from the mid-40s. Older people may struggle to hear well at higher frequencies and may find it increasingly difficult to filter background noise.
Physical signs of ageing start to emerge between 40 and 50. This includes a loss of muscular strength and loss of range of joint movement and flexibility.
What does this mean for the workplace?
When we looked at the implications of young Gen Z’s in the workplace we came to the following four recommendations.
1. Encourage face-to-face communication and collaboration
2. Nurture talent and encourage growth and learning
3. Provide a tech-centered workplace
4. Offer work flexibility
Interestingly, these equally apply to the ageing workforce, and we’ll add one other — keep them active. Let’s explore each and how they apply to older workers.
Encourage face-to-face communication and collaboration
Gen Z want workplaces that foster communication and conversation and so do older workers. Older workers tend to be in the workforce because they want to be — relatively few look for jobs because they need them to survive. They’re at work because they enjoy the interaction and stimulation and have a valuable contribution to make.
Nurture talent and encourage growth and learning
Gen Z want workplaces that support their growth and development. The older generation can help support the young people by passing on their experience and wisdom. Research suggests that putting older and young workers together helps both groups perform better. They make good allies because of their different stages of life, and are less competitive with each other. That means that they are more likely to help each other and to form good teams.
Provide a tech-centered workplace
While Gen Z want high tech tools, conventional thinking assumes that older workers have trouble adapting to new technologies. But a study by Dropbox found that people 55 and over actually hold their own when it comes to how many different forms of technology they use per week (4.9 compared to the average of 4.7). Also, older workers are less likely than their younger colleagues to find using technology in the workplace stressful.
Offer work flexibility
A work culture and environment that allows people to be flexible with their work time, place, style and technology benefits the young and the old. Family commitments and lifestyle choices are often important for the older worker, and they have the experience to ‘work smart, not hard’.
Keep the workforce active
Sedentary lifestyles aren’t good for anyone, especially the over 50’s. Studies show that even an hour of exercise each day does not offset the negative effects of sitting too long.
Providing alternate spaces gives opportunities for a range of furniture options including soft seating, standing benches, and even treadmills that provide different postural options and opportunities to move. Sit-stand desks are a great option to keep people moving, and selecting the right work chairs also plays a part.
So while older workers may be compromised somewhat by the physical effects of ageing, their needs aren’t so different than younger workers. An inclusive design approach is what’s required. This way the whole workforce can benefit while addressing the specific improvements required for the ages and stages.
And anyway, age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are cheese.