In an article for Money Crashers online, Michael Lewis writes, “Over the next decade, 43% of America’s workforce will reach age 65 and be eligible for retirement…Collectively, they represent an enormous bank of intellectual and institutional knowledge gained over a half-century of technical advancement.”
Lewis goes on to suggest that this large, already trained group could represent a “pool of potential future employees available to American businesses.” Without question, older workers have a lot to offer employers.
Of course, the ‘elephant’ in the room and the biggest roadblock for taking advantage of such vast human resources is age discrimination. Various studies have suggested that even applicants in their forties have experienced age discrimination in the workplace or when interviewing for positions. However, because of a skilled labor shortage, an aging workforce, and an aging global population, employers are starting to take a second look at the benefits of hiring seasoned workers.
Experience Can Give Employers an Advantage
Quoted in a 2015 US News article, Kerry Hannon, an AARP job expert emphasized the importance of the experience and skills that older workers could bring to a job. “You’ve got someone who can solve your problems today,” Hannon said.
Michael Lewis wrote, “Their judgment, collected during a lifetime of mistakes and achievements often leads to less costly, more streamlined and better outcomes.”
As noted in a 2006 Entrepreneur article, “Years of experience helps them understand how jobs can be done more efficiently [and] saves companies money.”
Various studies have suggested older workers also can add depth of perspective and problem-solving skills when serving on teams or in groups. With a lot of life experience, older workers are often able to see connections between ideas that younger people, who can quickly generate ideas, might miss.
Even with a vast amount of experience, some employers will still argue that in the digital age, older workers are simply out-of-touch and don’t have the technical skills needed for success in today’s workplace. However, contrary to what some employers might believe, US News contributor, Arnie Fertig shared a 2014 survey that found “91% of older workers have a computer, tablet, or smartphone and that the share of workers who use such devices has grown considerably over the past three years.”
If an older applicant or worker isn’t up-to-date with current technology, “those skills can be taught. On the other hand, no amount of training can give a younger worker the wisdom gained through 20 or 30 years spent in the field,” Kerry Hannon explained.
Sometimes younger workers can help older employees learn the latest technical skills while older workers can serve as mentors and role models such as when dealing with difficult people or customers.
Older Workers May Have Valuable Market Insights
Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the MIT Age Lab has stated that individuals over 50 control about 83% of the household wealth in our country. Yet this huge potential market is often ignored or poorly understood.
Too often it is younger designers and advertisers who try to reach an aging market based on their own stereotypical assumptions about what older people want and need. One of my favorite examples is the large, beige emergency medallions that ‘old’ people are supposed to wear around their necks to summon help when they fall. I cannot imagine that a representative sample of older adults was consulted about this product and design before it was advertised. If research is correct, older adults are not attracted to products that look or make us feel old and helpless.
In a 2019 article for Fast Company, economics expert Chris Farrell says, “Older Americans represent an enormous market for goods, services, and experiences. Many of those products and services will be built and designed by older adults with a flair for understanding the 50-plus market.”
Organizations that want to tap into a profitable market must recognize the wants and needs of adults over fifty. Older employees may have some valuable insights that could help businesses connect with the 50+ market. However, employers must be willing to listen to older workers and invite them to share their valuable insights; unfortunately, this does not happen as often as it should.
Communication skills are essential for business success. Poor communication can lead to rifts between employees, costly mistakes, and angry customers. Many (but not all) older workers have dealt with a wide range of communication challenges over the years and have learned different ways of addressing these challenges that might otherwise fluster younger employees.
As noted in an American Express Company article, most older workers who were not technology natives, had to learn how to cultivate oral communication skills, often face-to-face. This can be important in the workplace.
When communication involves something sensitive or nuanced, face-to-face communication is often more desirable than email or texting because it involves visual cues such as facial expressions, aural cues such as tone of voice, and the actual content of the communication.
However, if the communication is straight-forward, a simple text or email message may be the most efficient and effective way to communicate—a mode of communication that the majority of older workers have demonstrated that they are willing to use.
Of course, age alone does not make someone an effective communicator. Having taught speech communication for nearly 25 years, I worked with students as young as 17 and as old as 81. Some of my youngest students were better overall communicators than some of my older students. However, older adults tended to be more aware of the need to put their phones down when face-to-face communication was needed.
As research has suggested, older workers can also provide valuable insights when working in groups and teams. Younger workers may be quick to brainstorm ideas, but older workers can add additional perspectives and see connections to ideas that others might miss.
Overall Advantages to Hiring Older Workers
Other articles and research have suggested additional advantages. For example, older workers are believed to have a stronger work ethic than younger employees. A 2010 Pew Research Center survey found that 75% of respondents thought older workers had a stronger work ethic.
Additional advantages may include the creation of a more stable workforce, increased flexibility for part-time work, and a genuine desire to be on the job. From experience to added insights and communication, older workers have a lot to offer.