The Workforce is Getting Grayer, Not Less Capable


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We all know age discrimination on the job is illegal, and that it happens every day. It’s the most common form of discrimination in the U.S. Businesses which employ at least 20 are subject to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects those age 40 and up. But law or no law, basing decisions on age just isn’t smart business.

Obviously it’s easier for younger workers to hoist themselves up a ladder. They understand technology faster, they’re cheaper to insure, and they’ll generally work for lower pay. But research shows, when it comes to loyalty, reliability and productivity, older workers are the anchors that keep a company in business. They have a depth of job knowledge and problem-solving skills that developed from decades on the job. And—they handle customers better.

Take a look at some stereotypes you may have heard about older workers, and why they are false.

Healthcare costs are higher. Health insurance does cost more as we age, plus older workers often recuperate more slowly. But it’s also true that they take fewer sick days. Why? Many younger employees view sick days as extra vacation time to take at will, while older workers see them as a last resort. And older workers are less likely to need dependent coverage.

Productivity is lower.Younger workers can move faster and with more agility. But they’re also more likely to be distracted by their phones, texting, and generally taking work responsibilities more lightly. Older workers tend to focus on getting the job done.

Older people aren’t as trainable. Technology doesn’t usually come as naturally to older workers, since unlike younger workers, they weren’t born into a techno-centric world. But studies show older people often seek out challenges and are fully capable of learning. Resilience and doing what is necessary is part of work, and increasingly that includes learning aspects of technology.

There’s More

Beyond stereotypes, there are other advantages to hiring older workers.While young people are good at electronic communication, they are often less comfortable with interpersonal skills.Older workers tend to be better at resolving issues with customers and smoothing problems out in person.
Also, turnover is lower among older workers because they want to learn a job, master it, and stay put. Younger workers tend to remain in one job only a year or two before moving on.

Are You Uncomfortable Managing Older Workers?

Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding a way around the differences.

  • Generally older workers would rather you talk to them face-to face or by phone, so forget texting.
  • Boss or employee, everyone should be coachable. Realize older employees aren’t a threat, and can be great assets if you acknowledge their skills. If they know you respect what they bring to the team, they’ll usually respect and recognize your leadership and encourage others to do the same.
  • View them as internal consultants. Consider what you’d have to pay an outside consultant to replace the knowledge you already have on your payroll.When they leave, they’ll take their knowledge and skills with them, so pick their brains while you can, possibly pairing them with younger workers who they can pass their skills onto.

As managers get younger, a lot of large companies have made the mistake of pushing out their older workers. They realize too late that with those workers went the depth of knowledge that comes not from books, but from a lifetime of hands-on, doing the job. Smart managers of any age recognize value, whether the employee’s hair is a purple Mohawk or a rapidly graying crew cut.

Teresa Ambord

Posted In: Management

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