Old-fashioned work ethic pays off

RHIANNON MCCONNELL
Last updated 09:21 06/05/2014
Margaret Allan
RHIANNON McCONNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

HARD WORKER: Margaret Allan is 77 and has never taken a sick day.

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She's 77, still holds a job and has never taken a sick day.

Porirua City Council support assistant Margaret Allan is proof that many workers are like a fine wine - they get better as they get older.

Allan's duties include delivering council papers, setting up the council chambers and cleaning up after meetings.

Accuro Health Insurance chief executive Geoff Annals has been visiting organisations and clubs trying to get rid of stereotypes about older workers.

Annals, who has spent many years involved with the Capital & Coast District Health Board and the New Zealand Nurses' Organisation, said analysis of 380 studies involving more than 70,000 people found older workers performed better in many respects.

"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," he said.

Annals said stereotypes that older workers took more sick days and were less reliable and productive were wrong.

"Being older doesn't, in itself, mean you are less physical or cognitively able than a younger person.

"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."

Until a few years ago Allan, who has worked for the council since 1988, worked fulltime. Now she works about 15 hours a week.

She said she aimed at working until she turned 70, but when she reached the milestone she realised she had more in her.

"I thought, 'I don't want to retire'. I still feel good. I'm listening to my body," she said.

While some businesses prefer to hire younger workers, older employees could offer reliability, diligence and an old-fashioned work ethic, Allan said.

"They [council] know I'm reliable. I feel I've got to be here and no-one else can do it."

She said her strong work ethic kept her going and she now has working until she turns 80 in her sights.

"It's like an old car. If you don't drive it, it's going to seize up."

Porirua City Council chief executive Gary Simpson said Allan was a valuable council employee they hoped to hold on to.

"She has worked for us for a long time and is very well-known and well liked," he said.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said employers who stereotyped older employees could be missing out on great workers.

"It's a big opportunity lost for employers who think like that," he said.

O'Reilly said hiring should be a case-by-case situation and age should not play a part in employment decisions.

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