What managers need to know

Mature workers are as varied in their aspirations, abilities and availability as any other group of workers. As managers, you need to take care not to make assumptions about older workers because of their age.

New Zealand academic salaries are lower than in Australia, Canada and the US, and our research funding and facilities are below those in Europe and North America.

These findings, combined with the outlook for continued high numbers of students, make addressing the effects of an ageing academic workforce more pressing than in the greater New Zealand population (BERL).

A 2019 study has identified four quick fixes for organisations wanting to retain older workers. 

Age discrimination

This is unlawful under the Human Rights Act of 1993. This includes recruitment, provision of learning and development, workplace programmes and conditions, and exit procedures.

For more information:

Our Equity Policy 
The Human Rights Commission 
Contact the Staff Equity team.  

Staff as carers

Many mature age staff members combine work with primary or secondary carer roles. Our Carer’s Toolkit is designed to meet their needs, as well as those of their colleagues and managers. See our Carers Toolkit.

Flexible work arrangements

Many people find flexible hours of benefit, but they are consistently found to be one of the most important facilitators, after good health, for older people to work beyond the traditional retirement age. Flexible work arrangements can also increase the employment participation of mature age employees who face other barriers to working such as illness, injury or care-giving responsibilities.We offer flexible work practices such as part-time, reduced hours and phased retirement. Read our Flexible Work Policy.

Find out more about flexible working.

Managing performance

It’s important as managers you don’t make assumptions about age and performance. Concerns about performance should be discussed with the employee in the same way as it would be discussed with any employee and performance measured objectively. Such conversations should be open and respectful.

Many employers still subscribe to myths about older workers being less able to learn, taking more time off, or being less productive. Some of these negative stereotypes are addressed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Difficult conversations

You may need to broach a sensitive topic with an employee. You could discuss this with your HR Manager and/or consider a POD course to develop skills in these areas:

The most important thing in having a difficult conversation is not to wait until it is too late. Issues are best dealt with as they arise. The EVOLVE and APR processes also provide an appropriate framework in which to raise challenging issues.

Health and wellbeing

If you’re concerned about an employee’s health, wellbeing or their performance due to illness or injury, have an open discussion. Key issues to consider are safety, appropriate management of any condition, reasonable adjustments required and time involved in rehabilitation or treatment.
See also Health and safety responsibilities for managers.

Medical retirement

Medical retirement cannot be forced. However, if an employee has been ill or injured and fitness to work is in question, a proper process of assessment is expected. The outcomes of this assessment should lead to an honest discussion between you and the employee. Considerations would include:

  • A complete medical/psychological/functional assessment
  • Appropriate treatment requirements and/or rehabilitation plan
  • When it is safe to return
  • What tasks can be managed and how
  • Reasonable adjustments that may be required
  • Impact on job description

Succession planning

Combine the retirement process with deliberate steps to ensure knowledge transfer and develop skills and confidence of employees who may step into the roles. Discuss knowledge sharing, delegation of some tasks, mentoring, and any potential issues regarding succession on a regular basis.

Changes to terms and conditions

Duties may evolve as an employee ages. However, any substantial change to their terms and conditions of employment must be by agreement between them and the University.

It may be appropriate for the employee to move to flexible working arrangements, phased retirement or fixed term agreements for project work. Any such changes must be by agreement. For further advice see your HR Manager.

Resignations, retirement and phased retirement

Any employee may retire at any age, and staff of all ages are encouraged to plan for their retirement as a normal part of their career planning. For more information on managing staff who are leaving, see Resignations and Retirement.

If there are concerns about whether an employee can meet all their responsibilities for whatever reason, you must discuss this with them. Support is also available from HR Managers and Advisors.

Mature age employees themselves can be referred to Information for Employees.