Technology, Diversity and an Ageing Workforce – a cocktail of workplace change

On the 9th of January 2007, almost 12 years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the first iPhone. An iPod, a phone and an internet communicator – all in one device.  Primitive by today’s standards, with a 3.5-inch touchscreen, 2-megapixel camera and iPod touch-inspired design, it is widely credited with heralding the modern smartphone era.  And with it, the way we work and play today.

It sure feels like longer than 12 years ago, doesn’t it?

In the workforce, a paradigm shift has also occurred over the last 10 years.  People now see their working lives differently, and don’t think or act like the workforce of the past; nor does it hold the same values, or have the same experience or pursue the same needs and desires.

A recent survey conducted by BambooHR: “Then and Now: How a Decade Changed the Workplace,” recorded and analysed these developments:

  • Ten years ago, half of all employees felt they developed their best ideas at their desks.  Whereas today - only 27% of employees favour it.  The rest prefer to ideate while relaxing at home (19%), around the water cooler (11%), or on their commute (10%).

  • Ten years ago, employers thought that it was important to regulate e-mail usage—76% said their organizations had e-mail usage and content policies.  Today, that number has decreased by 42% (thank goodness!)

  • 66% of all employees today (up from just 50%) feel that their current workplace design encourages creativity and innovation – how cool is your office?

Conspicuous by their absence, the survey doesn’t cover two important aspects of change: the rapid and widespread introduction of new technologies and an ageing population, and how these are changing the nature of work and hence the composition of organisations all over the globe.


Technology like cloud processing and software as a service (SaaS) are already in use by many large companies, while AI or artificial intelligence promises to transform the future workplace.  The ready availability of information and data means research that took (many) people years and millions of dollars to complete back in 2005 is now virtually free.


In New Zealand, the numbers of 55-year-olds and over-involved in the labour force is expected to grow from 485,600 people in 2011 to 823,400 in 2036, a 70% increase.  Currently, almost 90% of people want to work past the typical retirement age of 65 whether in full-time or part-time roles.


John Milford, CEO of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, highlighted this in a Stuff article recently “Outdated views on age will bite as the workforce gets older,” stating: “New Zealand isn’t alone in this.  The World Economic Forum predicts that over the next 40 years the ageing of populations will be one of the biggest issues affecting the world, having a significant impact on economic prosperity (as well as social welfare and public health) because it will be harder to drive economies.”


During the next 10 years, the economic and social environments of most organisations will become increasingly more diverse.  Auckland is already one of the most diverse cities in the world.  This, in turn, will be reflected in the workforce, which will become more diverse with respect to age, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours.


This increased workplace diversity has meant organisations’ understanding of diversity has needed to evolve.  There has been a shift from race and gender relations and an exclusive emphasis on observable differences or demographic diversity to include the multitude of differences that constitute the identity of individuals and affect their behaviour.  (HRINZ Publication: Diversity Management)


Continue reading Part 2 here: Enter the role of “Head of Diversity and Inclusion”


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