America’s Workforce is Aging, and That Could Be Good News

It’s true, none of us is getting any younger. But what’s especially interesting is that our workforce is becoming significantly older. In fact, it’s projected that by the year 2030, the number of people 65 years or older in the U.S. will represent 20% of the U.S. population, and many of them will still be in the workforce.

The biggest reason for the increase is that the qualifying age to receive full Social Security retirement benefits has been increasing incrementally since 1998, reaching 67 years by 2020. As a result, the average age of the workforce is projected to continue on the upswing. Add to this the overall better health of the population, the need for health benefits, and the cost of living, and it’s not surprising people are choosing to stay at work longer.

What does this phenomenon mean for managers? First, you should know that there are many benefits to having an older workforce. Naturally, older workers bring a maturity to their job that comes from life and work experience. Many times, they’ve already worked through problems that a younger team is experiencing for the first time. Having dealt with a particular situation in the past, older employees can bypass the stress and emotional response, offering solutions instead of panic. By tapping into this knowledge and expertise, resources can be put in the right places, and many crises can be averted.

Additionally, older workers tend to have exceptional loyalty (a hallmark of the Baby Boomer generation), punctuality, and reliability. They also have greater contacts and a more mature network than most younger workers. And they have learned the power of relationships, so they are often very good listeners and exceptional at providing customer service.

Older workers also tend to possess very good organizational skills, and they know how jobs can be done more effectively simply because they’ve done them before. These are skills that can result in significant cost savings as long as managers tap into them and sustain older workers’ confidence. The problem is that sometimes older workers can feel ignored, and their willingness to offer advice diminishes—a loss for everyone involved.

So, how to make sure older workers stay engaged so that everyone benefits? First, understand that ageism can be subtle. Watch out for common stereotypes among younger staff, such as thinking that older workers are more expensive in terms of wages and benefits, that they are less productive and resist change, and that they are not current on new technology.

If you have a creative team, don’t hesitate to put an older employee in the mix. People who have years of experience can usually provide focus for a creative group. Additionally, they are great at connecting ideas—a vital part for a successful creative process.

Never resist offering training to older employees thinking they won’t “catch on” to new technology. The fact is, their prior experience is extremely helpful in understanding the “why” as to how technology works.

Also understand that sometimes younger supervisors will feel awkward having an older person on their team. It’s important to break through these barriers. Whereas some younger bosses may worry that older workers won’t be as productive, others can feel threatened by mature workers who have more tenure. In managing this situation, encourage younger bosses to tap into the experience of their older employee. Although both need to respect the employee-supervisor relationship, younger bosses often thrive when they consider older employees as partners, especially when tackling challenging projects that require significant institutional knowledge.

Want other tips for making older employees feel more welcome in the workplace? Tomorrow we’ll take an in-depth look at what your more mature staff members are looking for and how to meet their needs.