It wasn’t so long ago that older workers feared—and not without cause—losing their jobs to younger competition. The thought was that younger, energetic talent having just acquired the most up-to-date education would force out older colleagues who were making more money due to their seniority but who were likely to be less productive than the newcomers.
The problem was so acute, in fact, that in 1967, the federal government passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to protect employees over 40 from discrimination.
Older Workers a Hot Commodity
In an increasingly knowledge-based economy and an environment with historically low unemployment rates, older employees are now finding themselves as a much-sought-after commodity.
According to the Department of Labor (DOL), about 10,000 Baby Boomers retire every day—this in an environment where DOL data indicate that employers were not able to fill 6 million open jobs, which creates a perfect talent storm.
Retaining Institutional Knowledge
It’s not just a shortage of labor that has employers eager to retain employees nearing retirement. These employees have incalculable levels of institutional knowledge, not just about the industry but also about the company itself—not to mention the wealth of connections they often have within and outside the organization.
Holding onto Experienced Workers
Employers are taking extra steps to hold onto these older employees. For example, cognizant of the fact that many of these employees are on the verge of retirement, employers often offer very flexible working hours—shorter workdays and/or shorter workweeks—and even the ability to work from home or remotely. Others offer new career paths and new challenges to keep potential retirees engaged and interested in sticking with the company a bit longer.
It hasn’t always been the case that companies were bending over backward to retain older employees. And there are certainly still signs of ageism impacting older workers’ abilities to get and keep jobs.
Ageism in the Workplace
According to Meghan Maloney, Branch Manager, HR/Admin at Addison Group, “Ageism is the impression that a candidate is, for lack of a better expression, ‘too old’ to culturally fit the role in consideration. With being overqualified, it is a matter of a candidate holding too many years of experience in one industry or space.
The thought process of an employer is either a candidate will not have the opportunity to relate to a role because of his or her age and/or a candidate would become too easily disinterested in the day to day for him or her to stay longer than a year
These are two completely different things, but I can understand the similarity because years are involved: number of years in life vs. number of years in a particular field. I almost think of the biggest difference between the two as book smarts vs. street smarts with the book smarts being overqualified for a role because their hands have been in it for so long and the street smarts with age because it’s not their ‘first time around the block.’
Though it’s important to consider whether or not a candidate’s skill set aligns with what you’re looking for don’t forget that it is equally important to realize what attitude and personality he or she will bring to the table. There are young professionals with old souls and more seasoned professionals with young souls—ageism should not be a factor in any hiring decision.”
Maloney adds, “Ultimately, it’s a give and take. Is it better to have a culture and personality fit or a skill set fit? Whichever is going to elevate your team on the day to day is going to elevate your day to day because the area that lacks can be compensated for in another.”