Past One’s Prime

by Jeff Weiss

I recently gave a presentation at the International Federation of Aging annual conference on the Dirty Dozen Myths of Aging with a particular focus on one of our identified myths — “Past One’s Prime”.  This is the myth that older people are no longer productive in the workplace.  There is little evidence to suggest this myth is true as the reality is that there is virtually no relationship between age and performance.

Yet, if you talk to anyone over the age of 50 (or dare I say 40) who is searching for a job, you will find that ageism is a huge hindrance in landing a new position.  Other comments and myths commonly heard by older job hunters include:

  • They can’t learn new things
  • They take more time off sick
  • They will retire and leave the organization
  • They are overqualified (and this is bad!)
  • They command higher wages and salaries

Although there can be some truth to these comments on an individual basis, in general, members of the Active Aging population can often bring skills and experiences to organizations that younger employees cannot.  The technology industry is particularly reluctant to bring in older workers largely due to another widely held myth — we call “What’s a Bluetooth?” — which is the belief that Active Agers are technologically averse and challenged.  It’s no wonder that technology companies have largely missed the boat when it comes to marketing to and engaging older workers.

With more than half of workers expecting to work beyond the age of 65 and with people 55+ accounting for 24% (and growing) of the US labor force, companies will have to step up on the hiring front to fill positions at all levels within their respective organizations.

Internally, this will require a different mindset for recruiting purposes (such as adjusting the visuals used in recruiting materials that often show much younger candidates) and for effectively managing a more diverse and inclusive workforce.  Training will be required across age groups for a better understanding of some of the differences and nuances involved in working effectively with individuals who can be one or two generations apart.

There is also a significant opportunity for companies to hire Active Agers to boost bottom line profitability.  Categories, in which older consumers account for a large proportion of all spending, could benefit from having different perspectives from actual consumers within their target group and from having Active Agers in customer-facing roles.  For example, think about the age of car salespeople trying to sell new cars to older consumers (who are responsible for the majority of new car purchases).  Is that Active Aging consumer more likely to trust a 30-year old or a 60-year old who understands their needs and desires?

And what about call centers?  Here is an industry with turnover rates of 30 to 45% (compared to 15% across all industries in the United States).  Talk to anyone who runs a call center and they will tell you that their biggest challenge is recruiting enough people to fill the endless number of job openings due to high attrition. I would suggest that hiring older workers might be a great solution to this challenge.  Most call center tasks these days can be done from home and Active Agers have the flexibility within their schedules to accommodate different scheduling needs.  And with so much of the customer care experience now being delivered online, research suggests that those people who actually still pick up the phone to talk to someone are more likely to be over the age of 55.  Wouldn’t it make sense for them to talk to someone who really understands them?

It’s long past time that we retired the myth that older workers are past their prime.

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