We should be thinking differently about hiring older workers. But, first, we need to challenge our assumptions. Here are five things you may not know about older workers:

1. Older workers still want to work

Not everyone wants to retire. Let’s get rid of the picture of life after 65 being a series of bridge games and mall walks. Nothing wrong with those, but the real picture is much bigger and more diverse. A majority of retirees would like to come back to work and many do. Older workers want to work and have much to offer.

2. Older workers do not necessarily cost more

Older workers do not always cost more to employ. Health care is a big concern, but older adults are in better health than ever before and are less likely to be carrying policies for dependents and partners. When higher compensation is appropriate, it represents value: years of experience to share, the ability to get up and running quickly, and the soft skills needed for success. Plus, some older adults are not looking for a high salary or benefits, but the opportunity to contribute and keep growing. Read on to learn more about costs.

3. Older workers add unique value to the workplace

As with other kinds of diversity, multigenerational teams can be more productive than teams where everyone has the same level of experience. Different age groups bring a wider view of the possibilities. While some skills can be taught, years of experience bring advanced business acumen and intuition. Having multiple generations adds not just balance, but the opportunity for everyone to learn from each other. Additionally, older employees can often better understand older customers and help businesses access the growing market of older consumers.

4. Older workers have plenty of time left

Today, people can expect to live many years, even decades, past the traditional retirement age. Plus, we can expect much better health along the way. The average person in 2014 stayed in a job 4-5 years. With average life expectancy in the US nearing 80, most older adults have plenty of time to fill. Median employee tenure is also higher among older workers than younger ones. In a 2018 US study, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (10.1 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 (2.8 years).

5. Older workers use technology

Let’s not make assumptions. Some older adults do have technical experience. Many have been using computers at work and home for decades now. Not to mention that old dogs actually can learn new tricks, otherwise known as “re-skilling”. Consider an example: “One global telecommunications provider encourages older workers to reinvent themselves and invests in programs to help them acquire new technical skills.16 Software engineers who have built careers on older technologies such as COBOL or C++ can use this experience to learn mobile computing, AI, and other technologies at a very rapid rate.”

What can we do instead of work from these assumptions?

  • Hire on a level playing field and give people the opportunity to prove what they can do. Do not assume certain skills or abilities purely based on age.
  • Do not put too much weight on having the most recent degree. That alone does not reflect how well a person can collaborate, learn, or handle stress. A degree is a beginning to learning, not an end. What has that person been doing since getting a degree?
  • Do not miss out on the value of maturity and experience. Some skills can be taught, but others come only from time and life lessons.
  • Post the salary and if someone applies, do not assume that they won’t take the job if they are older. Each person’s motivations differ, no matter the age.

Things are changing. Perhaps some of these ideas held more water a few generations ago, but now people are living longer and healthier lives. We have learned much more about how our brains continue to learn and grow throughout our lives. We also know that our population is changing and that older workers are the fastest growing segment of the labor force. It is time to change our attitudes about older workers to keep up with the times.

Want to learn more about the case for intergenerational workplaces? Check out our page on age-friendly workplaces. Changing the Narrative can also come to you. To set up a presentation or get more information, contact us.

Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger

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