Older workers are often a forgotten piece of the diversity equation. It’s time to check our age bias and learn to recognise that ability and talent are ageless.
Aussies, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, are increasingly working to older ages. A 2018 study found that Australians aged 65 and over had a workforce participation rate of 13%, compared with only 8% in 2006.
In a parallel research study carried out by SEEK, two-thirds of participants think they will realistically retire by the age of 75. This suggests that although the majority the older population is prepared to work, most cannot find employers to hire them.
Australia has a robust Age Discrimination Act which prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of age. It applies to young and older workers alike. Specifically, the Act makes it unlawful to “discriminate on the basis of age when advertising jobs; during recruitment and selection processes; when making decisions about training, transfer and promotion opportunities; and in the terms, conditions and termination of employment”.
Check your bias
Yet, age biases exist. Debunked stereotypes about older workers include having a lack of energy or dynamism, poor technology skills and an inability to learn new things.
To address the issue of the “tech gap”, otherwise known as DQ (digital intelligence); employers are increasingly recognising that technology skill gaps are not a result of generational differences. Rather, the gap lies in a willingness to learn and ability to embrace change. These soft skills could be lacking in even the most tech-savvy Millennial.
If we’re honest, it can be difficult to overcome an age bias. Imagine conducting interviews for an important role in your organisation that has generally attracted candidates in their twenties and thirties. If a candidate over the age of sixty walked into the interview room, would you be able to see past their age and consider them purely on the basis of their suitability for the role?
The good news is that older candidates are not only the equal of younger talent, but come with their own set of unique benefits. Let’s review six benefits of hiring older workers.
An older worker will run rings around younger candidates when it comes to accumulated years of experience. For those who believe that older experience is irrelevant in a fast-changing environment, it can be argued that all experience is valuable because the principles of good business are evergreen.
“Wisdom” can be a difficult term to pin down, but you’ll know it when you see it. DARE Group Founder Sue Parker told the Sydney Morning Herald that wisdom is “the result of pattern recognition, which can pre-empt problems and provide possible solutions. Older people often foresee issues based on their life and work experience."
In other words, business challenges are cyclical. Although you may believe the current problem you’re trying to solve is new and unique, it’s highly likely that an older colleague would have encountered and overcome a similar challenge in the past.
3. Strong networks
Along with accumulated years of experience, older workers tend to have larger and stronger networks than their younger counterparts. These networks may not necessarily be visible online, but they are there nevertheless and (depending on the role) are often invaluable for the worker and their organisation.
4. You have older customers, too
Having a diverse team means reflecting the diversity of your organisation’s community and customer base, which is almost guaranteed to include a growing number of older people. Hiring older workers will help your organisation both represent and understand this section of the community, and hence drive sales.
5. They’ve failed more times than you can imagine
These days, failure is now recognised as an invaluable learning opportunity, and many organisations are doing their best to create a “safe to fail” environment for their workers. Imagine, then, the accumulated lessons and experience gained over 45+ years in the workforce. Although the battleground may be changing, there are plenty of insights to be learnt from those in your team with scars.
6. Higher job satisfaction and loyalty
For employers wary of wasting time and resources hiring job-hopping talent who leave for greener pastures within months of commencing their roles, older workers may be the answer. Research from the US-based Pew Center found that 54% of workers aged 65 and older say they are “completely satisfied” with their jobs, compared with just 29% of workers aged 16 to 64.
It follows, then, that higher job satisfaction leads to higher loyalty and retention. A 2017 report published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the length of time a worker remains with the same employer increases with the age at which the worker began the job.
Chip Conley, founder of the Modern Elder Academy, is a passionate advocate for older workers. He introduced the concept of the “Modern Elder” as follows:
“A ‘Modern Elder’ [is] someone who marries wisdom and experience with curiosity, a beginner’s mind, and a willingness to learn from those younger. With five generations in the workplace for the first time, it’s essential that we embrace and develop more means for such intergenerational collaboration.”
Conley suggests that pairing Modern Elders with ambitious Millennials creates an unstoppable combination:
“There is a generation of older workers with wisdom and experience, specialised knowledge, and unparalleled ability to teach, coach and council, who could pair with these ambitious Millennials to create businesses that are built to endure … The Modern Age needs Modern Elders.”