Why Older Workers Are The Future Of Work

Shortage of Workers? Can’t find Talent?

Quite a conundrum – where will your next worker(s) come from? Where will your next job or work come from?

Recent reports in the news have conveyed stories of older workers seeking work and not having any success. Being negated based on physical ability e.g., applying for work in the horticultural sector and expected to pick apples eight hours a day. Many of these employers are not thinking laterally on their whole workforce and best use of skills that many older workers are able and willing to perform. 

Future of Work

Older adults are often overlooked in analysis of the labour market. The ageing of the population is reshaping the economy.

Three reasons why older workers are the future of work:

1. The workforce is rapidly ageing

Aging Workforce

The labour force participation rate is projected to grow most for older adults. In other words, tomorrows seniors will retire later than yesterdays and todays did and will continue to be active in the workforce.

Workers aged 50+ comprised just 17% of the workforce (274,000) 30 years ago. By 2018 this doubled to 34% or 887,000 people. Internationally NZ is ranked 2nd in the OECD for the participation of people aged 55+. We have around 44% of people aged 65-69 still working, 57% of this group working fulltime. People are staying on through choice and from necessity.  

How will we use this incredible gift of time in a meaningful and productive way? Those of us 50+ are increasingly rejecting the retirement path and are “reimagining work and life choices.” – What an exciting phase!

2. Older workers are most at risk of their jobs disappearing

For older workers who lose their jobs, transitioning to a new career is harder. It makes less sense to invest in new skills later in life, and older workers tend to face discrimination when applying for jobs. Even though other measures of well-being, like poverty and unemployment are more favourable for older adults, older workers are most at risk from occupational shifts. It will be interesting to see how these occupational shifts unfold over the next few years as we work through impacts of the pandemic.

3. Older workers are the real gig-economy workers

Older workers are more likely to be in alternative work arrangements like consulting, freelancing, and on-call work than younger workers, and their participation in these alternative arrangements has increased over the past decade more than for younger workers.

Yes, millennials, we know there are more of you in the workforce than Gen Xers or boomers, and your lead will only grow. But older adults will have the most profound impact in the coming years on both the supply of labour and the demand for workers, and they’ll be on the front line — for better or for worse — of some of the biggest changes transforming the labour market.

Staffing for resilience

Pre-pandemic, the priority was generally to hire staff that would create efficient organisations. Mid and post-pandemic, the emphasis has shifted firmly in the direction of resilience. Whereas built-in redundancy or overlaps in skills might previously have been seen as inefficient, today, it’s seen as a sensible precaution.

This certainly encompasses another sub-trend, which is that employers are coming to understand the critical importance of building employee wellbeing (including mental health) strategies into their planning. Many employers are now trying to take more responsibility for helping their people maintain holistic wellbeing and are choosing to integrate this with their health and safety strategies. A challenge here that companies will come up against in 2022 is finding ways to do this that hit objectives without being overly intrusive or invasive of employees’ privacy and personal lives especially with so many people working from home or in flexible arrangements.

Ensuring a workforce is healthy and well enough to keep a business running is clearly a critical element of resilience, but it also covers the implementation of processes that are more flexible, with built-in strategies to provide cover when disaster strikes, resulting in operational efficiency becoming compromised. These processes are sure to play an increasingly big part in the day-to-day lives of workers as we move through 2022.

From the worker’s point of view, focusing on developing their skills, rather than further developing their abilities to carry out their ‘role’, leaves them better positioned to capitalise on new career opportunities. This shift in focus from ‘roles’ to ‘skills’ is likely to be a key trend for both organisations and workers during 2022.  

If you are over 50 and thinking about this next stage in life you may be interested in subscribing to We are Agesist. The newsletters and podcasts are interesting and keep a reality check on life after 50.

A recent interest has led me down the path of Ikigai. If you are seeking a practical philosophical approach to this next life stage check out Ikigai. 

Ikigai (pronounced “eye-ka-guy”) is, above all else, a lifestyle that strives to balance the spiritual with the practical.


This balance is found at the intersection where your passions and talents converge with the things that the world needs and is willing to pay for. 

Employers, business owners and older work seekers – A salute to finding the right talent, applying their skills to the right environment, that fosters purpose, passion, and relevance in this crazy world.

Leonie Walwork Change Strategist Workplace Wellness

Leonie Wallwork

Leonie is a Change Strategist with Workplace Wellness and Associate with Partners in Change Partners 

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