Keeping older employees engaged and at work

Wednesday 3 July 2019

A new journal article by Massey University researchers has identified the factors most likely to keep older employees engaged and in the workforce.

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Making older workers feel supported is relatively simple and inexpensive.

Last updated: Tuesday 28 June 2022

A new research paper published in A-ranked journal Personnel Review has identified the factors most likely to keep older employees engaged and in the workforce.

Lead author Professor Tim Bentley, from the Massey Business School, says the study clearly demonstrates the value of organisational support for older workers.

“According to the OECD, nearly 79 per cent of New Zealanders aged 55 to 64 are employed – and supporting older workers to remain at work will only become more important in the future,” he says.

“When older employees believe their organisation values their wellbeing, they reciprocate with greater effort and commitment in return. Of course the opposite is also true – if they perceive their employer doesn’t particularly support its older workers, they are much more likely to quit.”

The study surveyed 1238 New Zealand workers aged 55 years and older and was conducted by a research team with academics from Massey University, AUT, University of Waikato and Edith Cowan University in Australia.

Four quick fixes

Professor Bentley says the study identified four quick fixes for organisations wanting to retain older workers:

  • Flexible working arrangements;
  • Training for managers and recruitment staff in recognising age bias;
  • The championing of positive attitudes towards older workers by senior management;
  • Introducing mentoring programmes between older and younger workers.

He says none of these policies are expensive to implement.

“Workplace flexibility and appropriate recognition and respect for older workers doesn’t cost a thing,” he says. “They’re just good practice for organisations wanting to engage and retain workers of any age.”

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Massey Business School research director Professor Tim Bentley.

A growing employment issue

Professor Bentley says organisations will need to grapple with decreased labour supply as the baby boomer generation retires, while the costs of retirement and healthcare makes working longer more desirable. “Older workers also have valuable experience, skills and knowledge,” he says.

The study also found little evidence that age is associated with disengagement. “In fact, we found those aged 60 and over actually reported greater levels of engagement with their work than the wider sample.”

While it may seem obvious that making older workers feel supported increases the likelihood they will remain working, Professor Bentley says few organisations have practices and policies in place.

“Managers play an important role in creating positive workplace environments through their daily interactions with older workers. Organisations also need to put effort into training staff to manage age discrimination and unconscious bias towards older workers.”

While the study found age discrimination was perceived to be relatively low in most organisations, even low levels of discrimination negatively impact employee retention, Professor Bentley says.