Oldies Can Foot It with the Best in the Work Place
March 11, 2014
A New Zealand health professional wants to dispel the belief that older workers are unhealthy, they take more time off
work and they’re stuck in old ways, being too old to learn new tricks.
Geoff Annals spent 20 years as a senior DHB manager before moving to become CEO of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.
Now, as the newly appointed CEO of Accuro Health Insurance, he wants to challenge commonly held perceptions about
Geoff Annals points out that research literature on older workers offers little support for the argument that over 65s
are too unhealthy for employment. “Older people, who achieve good motor and cardio-respiratory function by keeping fit
and active, can perform as well or better than sedentary, younger workers,” he says.
“Even older people with deteriorating vision can compensate with an increasing range of options from glasses and better
lighting to larger font settings and screens on their reading devices.
“Being older doesn’t, in itself, mean you are less physical or cognitively able than a younger person,” Geoff says.
“And while older workers tend to be off work longer when they are sick, they are sick less often. They have fewer
workplace accidents, are less likely to suffer from off-work causes of absence such as high impact sporting injuries and
exhaustion from attending to a baby at night, and they’re less likely than younger workers to throw a sickie,” Geoff
He also addresses one of the most pervasive stereotypes of older workers that they’re resistant to change and can’t
learn “new tricks.”
“The evidence suggests that, while older workers generally take longer to pick up something new, it doesn’t impair their
ability to learn new skills and keep up with the learning of younger workers,” he says.
“It seems older workers compensate with better perseverance in learning and better application of what they learn.”
Of course all this counts for nothing if older workers perform poorly compared with younger workers.
But Geoff Annals points out numerous studies in the past failed to find any real difference between younger and older
workers’ overall job performance and a meta-analysis of 380 studies involving more than 70,000 people found older
workers performed better in many respects.
“Surprise, surprise,” he says. “The performance of older workers was found to be the same or better than younger workers
on all significant work performance dimensions except initial performance in training.”
“Older workers performed better on dimensions such as safety performance, absenteeism and organisational citizenship,
that are crucial to productivity and business success,” Geoff notes. “That doesn’t mean old workers are better than
young workers but it does mean there’s a real place for old and young in the workplace.”
He points out the research confirmed there’s more variation within age groups, than between groups of younger and older
workers. “In other words who you are is more important than how old you are,” he comments.
The 2013 census data shows 40 percent of 65 to 69 year olds and 21 percent of 70 to 74 year olds remain in fulltime or
part-time employment. Two out of five people receiving the Gold Card are still working. That’s a significant jump in the
numbers of people working beyond 65 since the last census in 2006.
“How could that happen if older people were the doddery, unreliable and unhealthy folk they are often portrayed to be?”
Geoff Annals asks.
As a result he’s critical of society’s expectations that people should retire at 65, or otherwise withdraw from active
social participation. “So long as older people want to, they should continue to have opportunities to continue to
contribute their experience, skills and wisdom, whether that be through employment or other forms of social
participation. That’s best for society and its best for them too,” he says.
It’s for this group of people that health insurance can play a valuable role.
“With private health cover, conditions affecting knees, hips and hearts can speedily be addressed allowing the person to
return to work or be engaged in the retirement activities they enjoy,” Geoff says.
“It’s important to Accuro that older members retain their private health cover and remain engaged in the community. A
vibrant and healthy community values the place of young and old and supports everyone to play to their particular
Geoff has been taking this message to organisations and service clubs this year and meeting with politicians from all
parties to offer an Accuro perspective to their health policies.
Ng, T.W. H., Feldman, D.C. (2008).The relationship of age to ten dimensions of job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 392-423.