— July 26, 2019
One of the fastest growing segments of the labor market are older workers. Research predicts that by 2024, approximately 25 percent of U.S. workers will be 55 or older, which is more than double the rate in 1994, when they only accounted for 12 percent of the workforce. Many firms will need to transition to a better strategy for recruiting, training, and managing employees to accommodate for this influx of older workers.
Businesses often dismiss older workers due to stereotypes that they are too expensive, more difficult to train, less productive, and too close to retirement to be worth the investment. But those myths have all been debunked, and older workers have been shown to bring many advantages to the table that younger workers often lack, such as experience, reliability, discipline, and attention to detail.
According to Deloitte, staying competitive in this world of unprecedented longevity will require organizations to rethink assumptions about age and adopt new approaches to engaging older talent. Companies that have invested in policies that engage mature workers have already proven that they can be extremely successful. Take, for example, the famous case study of Vita Needle, a manufacturing company where the average age of its workforce is 74 years old.
Here are some key strategies that companies should consider:
Retrain to retain
Many companies still hesitate to invest in training or development programs for older employees for fear that these employees will retire soon anyway, even though they all agree that retaining good workers is far more valuable than finding new ones. The reality is that a lot of Americans are pushing back retirement, often to age 70 or later. Not only because they can’t afford to retire, but also because some older employees simply want to be working.
Retraining employees on the latest trends and technologies keeps their skills sharp and prepares them to quickly step into new mission-critical roles as they arise. Investments like these are likely to pay more dividends on older workers than their younger counterparts, as older workers are more likely to stay on the job. Statistics show that workers aged 55 and older have an average tenure of 10.1 years at a job, while workers aged 25 to 34 stay only 2.8 years.
At AT&T, the average age of tenure is 12 years (or 22 years if you don’t count their call center employees). The company recently invested $ 1 billion to “reskill” more than half of its 250,000 employees. Although it was a gamble, it has paid off immensely with half of all retrained employees receiving internal management positions or promotions. The company also reduced their product development cycle by 40% and accelerated their time to revenue by 32%.
Make work meaningful
For older workers, factors like pay and benefits are no longer what matter most about a job. Meaningful work ranks higher among reasons to stay with their employer. They feel as though they can apply their skills and knowledge to thrive and make an impact by having an all-important sense of purpose.
Focusing on more meaningful work for senior employees means companies should make particular efforts to acknowledge and use their experience within the organization, even if they are not within upper management. Such tactics are currently employed by the U.S. military where younger junior officers to treat their older and more experienced sergeants as partners and check in with them before making important decisions. The supervisor still sets the goals and holds people accountable, but the older subordinates have a bigger say in the execution.
Research suggests that putting older and younger workers (those early in their career) together can help boost performance in both groups. Due to their age difference, they are less likely to be competitive with one another and can focus more on working together as a team. One way to foster such relationships is to create mentorship programs where older employees can impart their experience on their junior counterparts. Similar benefits can be seen with “reverse mentoring”, where younger employees mentor their senior colleagues to bring them up to speed on trends like social media.
Actively recruit older workers
Companies that ignore older workers when hiring are likely missing out on opportunities to find great talent, not to mention it’s illegal to discriminate against people aged 40 or over at the workplace. One of the most important things your HR team and management can do while recruiting is to let go of any biases, like assuming that older workers aren’t at all tech savvy. The Internet itself is 30 years old, and the pioneers of this technology are well in their 60s by now. Similarly, don’t assume that they’re not easy to train; a cognitive training study showed that older adults aged 65-80 had more stable performance with less variations day-to-day than their younger counterparts.
Next, apply a more open-minded approach to your recruiting efforts. Be careful about using language such as “seeking digital natives” or “join our young, dynamic team.” Train your hiring managers to look beyond age when evaluating candidates and be cautious about applying “cultural fit.” Many companies fall into the trap of hiring people that are similar to those already in the company, especially when it comes to age, rather than reiterating company values to the hiring team and looking specifically for employees that carry those same values, regardless of how old they are.
Lastly, don’t assume that you can’t afford older workers because of their experience. You may find that older workers are open to more flexible work arrangements. This can include part-time, hourly work, and in some cases, they are even willing to reduce their title or authority in exchange for a lighter workload and less stress.
Adapting to an aging workforce
Since the Great Recession, businesses have been slow to plan for an aging (yet still healthy) population. With the labor market tightening and U.S. unemployment rate at the lowest it has been in nearly 50 years, companies have no choice but to look to older workers to fill positions. Those who truly embrace and engage mature talent will be the ones that find themselves reaping the rewards of their experience and expertise.