Older employees staying in workforce

With the tightening of the labor market, employers are looking for new additional sources of employees. One of those sources is older workers. This includes employees who are delaying retirement as well as those who have gone back to work. The US Department of Labor says workers age 55 and over are the fastest growing labor group in the US. By 2024, nearly one fourth of the US labor force will be age 55 or over.

People are working longer for a number of reasons. People are living longer, healthier lives and are able to work past the traditional retirement age of 65. Many feel well enough to continue working and see no reason to quit working.

Also, because people are living longer they will need to earn more to avoid running out of money at the end of their lives. Almost half of all households headed by someone 55 or older have saved little or nothing for retirement.

Older employees are finding it difficult to find high paying jobs. Ageism is one of the claims for this. Over half of employees over age 50 say they face age discrimination at work. Over 75% say being older is a disadvantage when applying for work.

The top five professional occupations where the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected significant increases in the demand for older workers are real estate appraisers and assessors, technical writers, tax preparers, property managers, and building inspectors.

Many older employees lack bargaining power because they need the job and do not have a pension or other employment opportunities to fall back on. They are also less mobile than younger workers applying for positions.

Studies also show older workers tend to follow instructions better than their younger colleagues. Those over 55 often have more well developed social skills. For businesses, the skills possessed by these older workers can be often be obtained at a lower cost than their younger counterparts. They are quite often more flexible about working hours.

Experience should be valued. One of the problems many organizations face today is the loss of knowledge when workers retire. “Tacit knowledge” is the term associated with what is in senior employees’ heads that was not documented. Yet this information is important to the success of the firm.

One way to increase tacit knowledge is reverse mentoring according to Lisa Kahle-Piasecki, Associate Professor of Management and Information Systems at Tiffin University. “In reverse mentoring, senior-level workers are mentored by younger workers who may have more expertise in topics like technology.” A total of 67% Fortune 1000 companies using reverse mentoring found it to be effective.

Kahle-Piasecki said training on generational differences can also help organizations. “Currently, the workforce consists of multiple generations, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials. This training can help to develop an understanding of differences in values and avoid conflict.”

Older employees looking for a job need to emphasize their knowledge and social skills during the interview process. It is also important to communicate a willingness to learn new skills. Building a strong network during working years can help someone find employment later in life.

It is also becoming more common for people to start their own businesses later in life. Research shows a high correlation between age and entrepreneurial success. Despite the stories of young people who are start-up successes, older people are more likely to succeed in their own businesses.

As the population ages it is clear older Americans are going to increasingly be an important part of the economy. Businesses needs to find ways to use them as workers or entrepreneurs.

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.