The Truth About Older Workers

I consider myself blessed to work with a diverse group of clients from countless professional backgrounds, occupations, geographical locations and industries. The love I have for professional training and development stems from the fact that I am always learning as much as I am “teaching” to those I am hired to advise.

My column this week is dedicated to telling the true story about “older” professionals who are walking amongst us in our busy offices and communities. It is completely inspired by those I’ve worked with in recent years who some might mistakenly cast judgment upon as being less capable. Hopefully, it will motivate you to live your work life in a way that encourages an age-friendly workplace for everyone.

Truth No. 1 – YOU might be considered an older worker without realizing it.

According to the United States Department of Labor, people aged 45 years or older could be considered an older worker. The total population of workers who fall within this category is estimated to be nearly 25 percent, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Furthermore, the bureau estimates the median age of the American labor force to be 42 years old.

Truth No. 2 – Older workers are intelligent and fully capable of learning new things.

A 2005 study from Harvard Medical School concluded that a person’s I.Q. doesn’t decline with age and the mind doesn’t deteriorate, unless you don’t use your brain. In fact, it points out that older workers retain information longer and they tend to complete training at a higher rate than younger workers.

Truth No. 3 – Older workers have good memories.

There is no direct correlation that has ever proven a link between age and memory. However, there is a proven correlation between a person’s ability to remember and their levels of emotional upset or depression. It’s important not to confuse the older worker’s ability to remember things, with the inner turmoil they are experiencing due to being cast aside as irrelevant in our society.

Truth No. 4 – Older workers are worth the investment.

I was astonished at something I heard recently. Someone was telling me about a situation where a person in a leadership position within a highly recognizable organization stated they “weren’t interested” in interviewing any “older” candidates for a position within their department because they wouldn’t “be there long enough.” This leader – and I use the term ‘leader’ loosely – even went so far as to ask the age of the person who expressed interest in applying for the opening within their department. Not only is this illegal and highly unethical, but it is based on false stereotypes.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average length of employment for older workers is just over ten years, as compared to just over three years for workers 25-34 years of age. In fact, Forbes Magazine recently released results of a survey stating that 91 percent of workers born between 1977 and 1997 typically expect to stay in a job for less than three years. As a hiring manager, it is highly presumptuous and misleading to base a hiring decision on your false assumptions of an older candidate’s possible retirement age.

Truth No. 5 – Older workers have a lot to offer.

Where do I begin? Perhaps the best way to convey this message is to list out findings of a study released by the Department of Psychology at Portland State University. There are many areas where older workers tend to outperform their younger counterparts. These include an older worker being more likely to: help colleagues; comply with safety rules; avoid office gossip; be punctual; have low absenteeism, and have wisdom from past experiences to share.

As you contemplate what you’ve just read, consider how you can stop ageism in your organization and take advantage of what a mature workforce can offer. Reading these truths can be your first step towards distinguishing your personal bias from actual performance ability.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a regional director and senior consultant with JL Nick and Associates Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for more than 13 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, nonprofit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at ecipolla@jlnick.com or visit JL Nick and Associates’ website at www.jlnick.com.