Becoming an Age-friendly Business

As part of the consultation on a new strategy for an ageing population, we've invited a range of experts and specialists to write on topics of their choice.  In the following article age and work consultant Geoff Pearman considers how businesses might adapt to an ageing workforce and customer base.

Globally, increasing numbers of cities and communities are taking active steps towards becoming more age-friendly. Over 600 communities have now joined the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities.


But what does it mean to become an age-friendly business?

The Business of Ageing report, first published by the Ministry of Social Development in 2011 and updated every two years, provides the backdrop.

A reminder:

  • Population growth – 1.24 million people will be 65 and over by 2036, up from 700,000 in 2016.
  • Numbers in paid work – 320,000 people aged 65 plus will still be working in 2036, up from 168,000 in 2016.
  • Earnings – Total income from remunerated work will be approximately $16.9 billion by 2036, up from $6.5 billion in 2016.
  • Expenditure – Spending by people 65 plus is projected to rise from around $20.7 billion per year in 2016 to close to $50.5 billion in 2036. On historical patterns of expenditure, 28 percent is expected to be spent on foodstuffs, alcoholic drinks and tobacco, and clothing and footwear, and a further 22 percent is expected to be spent on housing and housing-related items. Health (11 percent), transport (13 percent) and recreation and culture (11 percent) constitute other important market segments. (Source: Business of Ageing Update 2017)

Fast forward 18 years and reflect on this media release:


20 April 2036

The Winner of the 2036 Supreme Business of the Year Award Is Recognised for Being an Age-Friendly Business

An innovative New Zealand company, ACME, received the New Zealand Supreme Business of the Year Award in Auckland last night. Headed by Business Woman of the Year Angela Smith, 73, the company was recognised as an outstanding example of what it means to be an age-friendly business. Judges commented on their exemplary customer service, innovative products and services, and age-friendly workplace.

New Zealand has a consumer market of over 1.2 million people, who have been largely neglected. This growing segment of people age 65 and over had at last estimate $50 billion to spend in the economy, with this projected to grow by 60 percent over the next 10 years. The winner of this year’s Supreme Business of the Year award has recognised this opportunity.

Over 25 years ago international consulting companies were highlighting the opportunity. The Boston Consulting Group observed that some early adopter companies were already recognising the demographic shift taking place as the boomers aged as a rare opportunity and were driving innovation by creating new products and services.

The McKinsey Global Institute 20 years ago described the global opportunity they saw with the 60 plus market growing from 164 million in 2015 to 222 million in 2030. At that time they saw this generating around 50 percent of urban consumption growth in developed countries, and 19 percent of global urban consumption growth. That proved to be accurate and is continuing to play out.

The Market Insights manager at ACME reflected, “We had been slow to realise that the world had changed. Like many companies we knew about the ageing population and were doubling our efforts to win our share of the 18 to 40 demographic. Then we saw the data and realised that we were missing a huge local and global opportunity.”

“It was two things – skill shortages and high levels of retention – that got us thinking about the ageing workforce about 10 years ago,” added Kieran Black, Chief People Officer. “Many of our long-serving staff were staying on at work, and we wondered why. We thought they would be retiring.”

“What we found was that many were staying with us through choice. For a growing group financial necessity was the key driver. After all, people could on average be living for another 25–30 years once they turned 65. At that point the retention of our older workers became part of our talent strategy.”

ACME undertook an analysis and found they had over 320 staff nationwide over the age of 65. In focus groups, older staff were telling the leadership they wanted to stay on at work but they wanted greater flexibility, to be doing interesting and challenging work, to have access to training, and to be valued. “They gave us plenty to think about.”

ACME has undertaken a range of initiatives and has been recognised four years in a row as an age-friendly workplace in the Employer of Choice Awards. “Our focus is on retention, engagement and creating an inclusive workplace,” says Black.

Over the past six years ACME has developed a partnership with several research labs and think tanks and as a result has patented four new products, which are now being exported. Chief Innovation Manager Karen Costas is quick to add, “With many more people living longer we wanted to develop products that would make peoples’ lives easier as they aged. I am talking about applying artificial intelligence to the challenges of ageing in place.” ACME is now part of a global network of companies creating breakthrough products.

The judges were impressed when they interviewed staff right across the company as to the high levels of engagement and loyalty. Equally when they spoke with partners and customers they found that the company was passionate about ensuring that every interaction, whether as a partner, customer or staff member, was respectful and inclusive.

Looking to the future, CEO Smith sees a positive future as the business focuses on understanding the needs of its customers, partners and staff at all life stages. “I guess the wake-up call we had several years ago has transformed us into a company that is now ‘age inclusive’. The interesting thing is that we have also discovered new opportunities across all life stages to be age-friendly. It just makes good business sense to us to be age-friendly.”

Geoff Pearman is the Managing Director of Partners in Change, a Trans-Tasman consulting business that specialises in the field of age and work. He is a consultant, facilitator, author and commentator on age and work.