Pop quiz. Who uttered this memorably ageist quote in 2007?
“I want to stress the importance of being young and technical. Young people are just smarter. Why are most chess masters under 30? I don’t know. Young people just have simpler lives. We may not own a car. We may not have family. Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”
Fast forward to 2016. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who uttered the above, is now a married parent. Mr. Zuckerberg is currently engaged in a novel stock restructuring plan to consolidate his control of Facebook, while ostensibly giving away his wealth as promised upon the birth of his first-born. Has a family? Yes. Simple life? Decidedly not.
Yet—the qualities espoused by Mr. Zuckerberg—smart, technical, and uncomplicated—are just the qualities that many older workers bring to the job market.
During the Great Recession and after, people lost their jobs across the board in the United States. Hardest hit were those entering the market and those who had been there awhile. It did not take long for American companies to figure out that laying off older workers with higher salaries, pensions, and benefits could save money during the economic squeeze.
Since then, many start-ups have come, a lot have gone, and the job market is now suffused with applicants on both ends of the age spectrum with a wealth, and diversity, of skills.
For many companies, considering candidates 40 years of age and up is an effective way to quickly onboard experienced talent, leadership, and speed the development of products and services to market. How?
The advantages of the older workforce
A belief persists that younger, less-experienced job applicants are less expensive, more engaged, and likely to be around awhile. As recruiters, let’s take a look at what we know:
- Despite the belief that more experience means high pay, older workers are generally not looking for a career-high salary. Plus, for companies seeking to woo enterprise clients, older workers are approximately the same age as many sought-after clients, proving an asset during negotiations and service delivery.
- Over-40 workers in corporate, sales, industrial, technical, and communications fields have previously worked through rapid economic and technological paradigm shifts—learning, managing, balancing, and oftentimes, succeeding. This experience makes these workers invaluable in the currently unstable market. They have seen it before and know how to help their industry ride it out.
- Leadership comes easy to well-experienced workers. In addition to the technical skills needed to remain competitive in this job market, older job applicants often have well-seasoned people skills that are useful on the job, and in mentoring younger team members.
- environment and are not likely to job hop in two years to accelerate career growth. Having already built a foundational career, older workers are more likely to be looking for stable employment for approximately the next ten years—far longer than most Millennial or younger candidates.
Too often, older workers receive not-so-subtle signals that their services are no longer needed. Hours and responsibilities are cut, formerly glowing reviews dim, and an employee finds themselves being shown the door.
Despite this, some companies are learning the value of maintaining diversity, skill, and leadership among their ranks by offering programs designed to entice and engage older workers to stay. A couple of examples include:
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH): The NIH provides emergency support for employees who have parents that may suddenly need care. Instead of losing valuable senior scientists and staff, the NIH works with employees to relieve the stress—and retain their employee.
- Michelin: The tire manufacturer offers programs that allow longtime employees to transition to part-time work to build flexibility and retain knowledge in their workforce.
- CVS Caremark: CVS transfers older employees from its northern stores to pharmacies in Florida each winter. The move allows the company to retain its employees, staff up during the Snowbird season in Florida, and meet the needs of its employees looking for warmer weather in the winter.
Notes Deborah Banda, a vice president of AARP, “Today’s older workers are healthier and a lot more technologically savvy than older workers of previous generations. They bring a lot to the workplace — many employers are seeing that. They know that recruiting and retaining older workers is good for their business.”
Intergenerational strategies to recruit and retain older workers help companies maintain a stable, skilled, diverse talent pipeline. For many older workers their aim is clear—to enjoy their work, offer value, and make some money. As noted by Mr. Zuckerberg, “Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what’s important.”