Why Older Works: Breaking the Stigma

Nov 30, 2023

“I’m 55 and out of work. Who’s going to hire me?”

Despite the laws against age discrimination, this lament is a familiar one. When there are layoffs or company reorganizations, workers over the age of 45 often find themselves facing a less-than-welcoming labor market.

That’s a situation that could quickly come to a head. As the retirement age for Social Security continues to increase, there will be many more workers over the age of 45, 55, even 65 who are in the market for a job. Yet this is the attitude they often face: that they’re too old to adapt.

That’s what the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found in its latest survey of hiring managers. The Midcareer Opportunity report found that a majority of hiring managers still cling to the notion that job seekers over the age of 45 are less able to adapt to new technologies or learn new skills. Just 27% of hiring managers believe that an older candidate’s personality meshes with the industry and team dynamics.

Even so, those same managers in the OECD report have noted the opposite result, acknowledging that workers in the 45+ age bracket often perform better than expected. A surprising 89% of hiring managers said that late-career employees have performed as good as or better than entry-level and intermediate-level employees.

The statistics help to break down these long-held discriminations against older workers. What should also help is knowing just how older workers can positively impact a company’s bottom line.

Retention. Older workers are more likely to stay on the job rather than job hop. Likewise, they take fewer days off.

Strong work ethic. The mature worker has experience in seeing projects through to completion. They are also used to brainstorming issues, navigating office politics, and resolving conflicts and complexities.

Connections. Career professionals have plenty of contacts, networks, and business soft skills to bring to the job. They have a lifetime of learning and applied knowledge that can be applied to the project at hand.

Tech skills. Despite the misconception, mature workers are adept at as well as teachable in all things technology. The companies they have worked for have already adopted technology solutions that they were trained on and used regularly. This makes it quite easy for the older workers to understand and master newer forms of technology.

Mentoring ability. All of the knowledge and soft skills an older worker accumulates can be passed on to a new generation of workers.

A larger talent pool. Mid-career and older workers are simply a larger segment of the population. Recent S&P Global data show that the number of US workers aged 55 and older reached an all-time high of 38.8 million in February 2020. While the post-pandemic has seen a precipitous decline in the 55+ workforce, 2023’s figures are just below that number, at 37.6 million 55+ workers employed in October.

Hiring managers, therefore, should be looking at their hiring processes to understand how they could be overlooking a highly engaged, dedicated segment of the employee population. Re-evaluate how your company defines success in each role within the company. Then review what your ultimate hiring outcomes are.  

Your best fit for any job is the candidate who has the experience and skills to meet your company goals. An older worker could be the exact fit you’ve been looking for. Losing the misguided notions about a worker’s age can help you find a worker that can help steer your company’s goals toward successful outcomes.

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