Of all the biases that exist, the one that gets the least amount of press time is the bias of age, better known as ageism. This is now becoming a major challenge in the workplace.
In fact, many people believe if you are older, your capabilities are more scrutinized and rigidly questioned. You are less likely to adapt, you’re probably not as capable, and less willing to roll up your sleeves and do something new than your younger peers. Guess what? Nothing could be farther from the truth.
This is an important and timely topic since the workforce is aging at a rapid rate. Research shows that people age 60 and over are projected to outnumber children under the age of five within the next year, and by 2025 it is expected that 25% of workers in the U.S. and the UK to be over the age of 55. In fact, this is true in almost every country.
There are a number of reasons for this such as people living longer and the younger generations having less kids. Despite this, the fact remains older people not only will very much be a part of the workforce for years to come, but they are also a much-needed part of it.
Here are six reasons why every company can benefit from an older workforce as part of its team.
A 50-year-old software engineer, grocery store manager or accountant is going to have years of real-world experience compared to someone half his age. There are plenty of traits that younger employees bring to the workplace, but practical hands-on experience is one thing older people will always have over their younger colleagues. He or she will probably have been thrown in the middle of practically every scenario imaginable by that age, and therefore will probably be better at navigating the situation.
One of the best ways to excel in any part of life is to have a great mentor because there is nothing like learning from someone who has the years of experience you are lacking. In companies that have a mixed age in its workforce, setting up these mentor teams is a brilliant idea. In fact, what I usually recommend to my clients is to pair up an older employee with a younger one. The older employee passes on her years of real-world knowledge from the field. The younger employees tend to bring a fresh perspective and a new way of thinking to their partner. Productivity goes through the roof and your workforce benefits from building more personal relationships with colleagues they otherwise wouldn’t interact with. It’s proof that great teams really are multigenerational.
Older employees tend to be more dedicated than younger ones. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 was 9.9 years, more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years coming in at only 2.8 years. Businesses don’t like having high turnover rates. It costs them in time, money and builds doubt in the minds of customers. Many of the executives I work with have told me their older employees take the job more seriously and take fewer vacation days. Not only is this good for obvious reasons, but it sets the tone within the company.
The ways in which we communicate have changed over the last 20 years. Email and texting are now the preferred means of communication for younger employees. However, in a business setting, the communication skills your older employees possess will always be beneficial. Having the ability to verbalize, show emotion, handle a room full of customers and soothe an irate customer are critical. It’s not to say younger employees aren’t good in these situations, but the people skills of the older generation tend to be better in these ways.
Not everyone is made for a leadership role, but many older employees thrive in leadership positions for many reasons. They have tried and true methods for practically any scenario that may arise. After years in the industry, they have a large network of close professional contacts and know exactly who to reach out to. They also tend to be much better listeners than their younger counterparts, which helps them see important details that others might miss. In addition, older workers in leadership roles are seen as the staple of the company, someone who others look up to and want to learn from.
DIVERSITY MAXIMIZES OUTPUT
Beside the value and competence older employees can bring to the workforce, there is the issue of diversity. Few things of value have ever been accomplished by individuals working alone. The vast majority of our advancements — whether in science, business, arts, or sports — are the result of coordinated human activity, or people working together as a cohesive unit. The best way to maximize team output is to increase team diversity, which is significantly more likely to occur if you can get people of different ages (and experiences) working together.
As the global economy ages, ageism bias will become a more important issue than ever. Remember that many people — no matter their age — do not have enough money to retire (even if they wanted to). All this to say, people of every age are motivated to come to work. If you can create an inclusive, fair, and meaningful experience for older employees, as well as younger ones, you’ll not only find your company becomes more innovative, engaging, and profitable over time, you will be benefiting society at large.