Companies seeking the right combination of professionalism, work ethic and problem-solving skills should consider hiring and investing in older workers.
Maggie Leung, head of content at finance startup Nerd Wallet, is a proponent of diversity, including hiring and developing older workers.
“When considering applicants, we look for candidates with experience at outlets with high standards. This tends to include older people, because they often spent years working to reach that level,” Leung explained in an interview with Fast Company.
As of December 2017, Leung’s team comprised of about 80 employees with 30% age 50 or older, Leung shared during a live interview with Atlantic. Although headquartered in Silicon Valley, home to tech companies staffed with younger employees, Leung looks for different perspectives and the ability to “collaborate, adapt and relentlessly improve,” she explained in an interview with Tech.co.
Companies that don’t embrace diversity in the hiring process may overlook the best candidates for the position.
Benefits of Hiring Older Workers
Despite negative stereotypes that older workers can be resistant to change, less creative and less productive than younger workers, studies reveal older workers have a lot of positive and productive traits that are valued in the workplace.
According to a 2015 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study, HR professionals surveyed highlighted three main advantages of older workers (55+): more work experience (77%), more mature/professional (71%) and stronger work ethic (70%). Additionally, the same study ranked critical thinking and lifelong learning among the strongest applied skills held by older workers.
The benefits of hiring older workers span even further.
Older workers tend to remain at employers longer than their younger colleagues. According to the 2016 Employee Tenure Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 48% of workers age 50 to 54 spent 10 years or more with their current employer, compared to 12.5% for those between 30 to 34. Longer tenure could mean lower turnover costs.
Older workers have experience and skills they have perfected. Although they may not be well-versed in the latest technology, many technical skills can be taught. Effective communication skills, emotional intelligence and people skills are often learned over time and with job experience.
“Years of navigating the workplace environment often give them the diplomatic skills to navigate the workplace,” Lauren Griffin, senior vice president of staffing firm Adecco Staffing USA, explained in an interview with Fast Company.
Older workers are more likely to love or like their job rather than just tolerate or dislike their work, according to 2014 AARP survey. Results indicate that nearly a third of workers aged 40 to 59 love their job and 43% like their job.
Additionally, older workers are more likely than younger workers to get a sense of identity from their job, according to a 2014 Gallop survey.
Several additional positive qualities include higher levels of engagement, broad work and life experiences, and existing networks of professional and client contacts, according to a 2014 SHRM report.
How to Hire Older Workers: Best Practices
Recruiting new mature workers – individuals over the age of 50 – and retaining current employees is “simply good business for most organizations,” according to the 2014 SHRM report.
From appealing to older workers in job descriptions to redefining duties, organizations may need to change how they recruit, train and retain older workers. The best practices below can help organizations hire more older workers.
Job descriptions should include words that appeal to experience, which is what older workers have that younger workers don’t. For example, use mature, experienced or reliable in position descriptions.
Create partnerships with organizations that help older workers and retirees find work. Several programs include:
- AARP’s Life Reimagines for Work program
- American Society for Aging’s Career Advantage
- The Senior Community Service Employment Program
Consider offering work arrangements that meet somewhere in between full-time work and retirement. Experienced individuals may want something in the middle. Such options include flex-scheduling, remote positions and seasonal work that would allow snow birds to transfer between locations or take time off during specific seasons.
Training & Development
Take the time to better understand how older workers want to learn. Don’t assume they are not willing to learn a new technology or skill and different approaches that may better accommodate their learning style. SHRM suggests ensuring the delivery of training works best for this audience by examining these key points:
- Pace – Is it too fast, too slow or just right for an older audience?
- Sight – It may sound simple, but make sure materials are easily legible with appropriate font colors and size.
- Hearing – If workers can’t hear everything that is being said, consider changing the location of training or asking people to sit closer to the main presenter.
- Technology – Keep in mind training that uses high-tech jargon can alienate older workers, so make sure employees feel comfortable asking about digital equipment and newer applications to better understand what you are talking about.
Conduct career planning discussions that will help managers and employers understand what level of career growth and development individuals need or want. Do not assume because of someone’s age they do not want a challenge or opportunity to advance. Speak with employees and ask questions about professional goals, as well as lifestyle factors, such as reduced hours or more flexible schedule.