The New Zealand Seniors Series: Working Seniors Report 2023

When COVID-19 hit, seniors all over the globe left their workplaces in droves. But even as the pandemic subsides, the threat of the cost-of-living crisis and growing recession fears are prompting many of us to return to work, setting in motion what’s been coined globally as ‘the great unretirement’.

The Working Seniors Report 2023 forms part of the New Zealand Seniors Series, which explores the issues that matter most to our community. Surveying 500 New Zealanders over 50, this chapter delves into our disposition towards working, what’s motivating us to continue working, working beyond retirement, and the challenges we face now and in the near future.

Seniors are expecting a delay in retirement

While we all have personal preferences around retirement age, goals, and expectations, sometimes life has other plans. Unfortunately, less than half (43%) of working over 50s feel on track to retire at the age they prefer. Further, the proportion of us expecting to delay retirement has increased significantly over the last 18 months, from 23% in 2021 to 37% in 2023.

So, what’s driving this? And why are we working longer when we should be enjoying our golden years?  

The drivers for working longer than the retirement age

Most of us can attribute at least one benefit to working beyond 65, from maintaining a sense of purpose (59%) to avoiding boredom (50%). However, financial motivations (81%) top our list of benefits of continuing to work later in life. Interestingly, the following are the top reasons provided by working seniors whose ideal age to stop working was beyond age 65: enjoying working (65%) and maintaining a sense of purpose (63%), closely followed by coping with the rising cost of living (61%). 

In addition, the impacts of the pandemic, growing recession fears and the rising cost of living have forced two in five (41%) of us to modify our retirement plans. Many of us are now looking to delay full retirement (38%), while only a few (3%) of us plan to accelerate our retirement. And just over 1 in 3 (37%) of us expect to keep working past our preferred retirement age to fund retirement.

Despite its challenges, many of us find employment helps us uphold a sense of purpose in our lives (59%), fends off boredom (50%) and bring us joy (48%). And almost half of us relish the notion of staying social with our colleagues (48%).

Ageism at work

While most of us (81%) think staying in the workforce longer is a good thing for New Zealand seniors – whatever our personal objectives may be – we also hope to be valued and receive more support at work as we get older. Sadly, close to three-quarters (73%) of us feel that older employees are undervalued. Working seniors who have felt undervalued in their workplace due to age have cited inadequate salaries (66%), our peers failing to fully recognise our contribution (60%), and our skills not being completely utilised (48%) as the key drivers. 

According to the study, most of us think that ageism in the workplace is prevalent (71%), and one in three (30%) believe it’s much more prevalent now than five years ago. And a significant majority (85%) believe it increasingly difficult to land a job as we age.

The general consensus among respondents is that employers start to view employees differently because from a certain age. Curiously, the most common age bracket that we believe this begins is the 60–64 bracket (22%). Among seniors who have or are considering re-entering, going full time again or changing career path, three in five (60%) have or expect to face barriers. Some barriers include age discrimination in the hiring process (64%), employers perceiving that we are overqualified or too expensive (47%), technical skills falling behind (39%) unable to keep up with younger generations (39%), and perceived as not having enough technical knowledge and familiarity with relevant technology (35%). Perhaps unsurprisingly, nearly three in 10 (29%) seniors currently working or looking for work have decided not to apply for a job because we felt our age would negatively affect our chances.

Low degree of control over job prospects

Many of us feel a low degree of control over our job prospects, especially as we continue to age. In fact, nearly half (49%) of us have felt stuck in an employment rut because it seems that career change, other opportunities, or promotions are unlikely due to our age. In today’s rapidly changing world, there is a lot of uncertainty and flux, making it tough to grasp potential career opportunities. With this, it’s no surprise only 32% of us rate our job prospects as ‘good to excellent’ in five years’ time. 

Implications of the pandemic, rising cost of living and looming global recession delaying retirement

The reality remains that recession looms, living costs are skyrocketing, and we are unsure when these will come to pass. And like the rest of New Zealand, we may find it increasingly difficult to afford the basics, let alone put savings aside. These factors and the implications of the pandemic have caused some working seniors to delay full retirement (38%). This may also be true for many seniors who must work to pay off their mortgages. Even though they may be better off than their counterparts who do not own a home, fully retiring with mortgage debt is a key concern (78%) for senior homeowners, with close to three-quarters claiming their home ownership and mortgage status has significantly impacted their retirement plans (74%).  

The impact of economic uncertainty does not stop there. Close to a quarter (23%) of working seniors worry about their job security. The fear of impending global and domestic recession (41%), fear of being made redundant due to age (32%), and concerns of being replaced by technology (20%) are a few of the key reasons behind our job insecurities. 

Strategies to help seniors pursue new job opportunities

With so many working seniors choosing – or required – to continue working later in life, CEO of Seniors at Work, Ian Fraser, shares his tips for those of us feeling insecure or hesitating on how to go about pursuing a new job opportunity: 

  1. Be ready to take up any opportunity presented - whether an upskilling course is offered at work or you are proactively seeking new skills – it will help you somehow. The difference developing your skills can make to your senior working lives will be immense –from increasing your knowledge and building confidence to opening new work opportunities and making working life more fulfilling and meaningful.
  2. Avoid including any work experience that is more than 15 years old - If an older person submits their CV saying how proud they are of their work in the 70s or 80s, many recruiters won’t read any further.
  3. Be smart about your CV - Prepare a paragraph or two to highlight your work readiness and transferable skills. You will be amazed at the number of those valuable skills you have built over the decades.
  4. You must prepare much more to give yourselves a decent go - Gone are the days when you turn up for a job, someone would size you up there and then, and voila, you get the job. 
  5. Like the younger generation, seniors also must do the hard yards - Research the company and prepare adequately before the interview. Job search is more of a science now. The metrics are different from what they used to be.

The key to combatting ageism and supporting working seniors

Overall, we have shown that we are willing and ready to stay in the workforce longer, and through that, we will be making a substantial contribution to our economy. We also have the potential to reinvigorate the New Zealand workforce. Nevertheless, age discrimination remains a key issue. We can strive for equality and fairness in the workplace by addressing ageism, which can limit opportunities for older workers and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Both employers and employees have a responsibility to cultivate a culture of inclusivity for workers of all ages by recognising the value and contributions each individual brings.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of the New Zealand Seniors Series. The above information has been sourced from the Working Seniors Report 2023.