Work and Ageism: Are Older Workers the Economies Hidden Asset?
At times the premise of hiring older workers can be a sensitive subject. There is prejudice that comes to mind, many of which are opinions rather than fact. These opinions are, at times, condescending and uninformed. The association of old age and inevitable decline runs deep. A majority of questions older people get asked are usually “Are you well?” “Still having a drink?” and “You seem fine to me.” Such a preconception of age discrimination is harmful. This group are fighting for purpose and a wage slip in a battle for respect and recognition. Older workers must not be swept aside as they can bring a lot more experience, education and talent to a career. This will benefit the mental health of all age groups due to the social enrichment that occurs when multiple generations combine. A higher level of professional maturity for handling difficult situations can rub off onto the less experienced workers. It can also work the other way around with younger workers teaching new ways of working and thinking to this group.
Even with bias the number of older people at work is swelling, but is it enough? There are keen entrepreneurs who are re-imagining the second half of their life. Employers will look no further when they want to find the qualified labour they need. Management teams are learning that they can’t afford to ignore experience. It is something earned and not bought or given quickly. Harnessing these hidden assets can have significant long term effects that will shape the economy. We have an ageing population so is it not time we utilise it? First of all it’s not about forcing them to work it’s about encouraging them. We want fuller lives not ones that are powered by an essential need to work in order to exist comfortably.
How do we start to be more inclusive? How do we break the barriers down? Let’s look at how we view age. This society looks at retirement as age related rather than attitude. Older workers might genuinely enjoy what they do and not want the pressure of impending retirement. People could cut down rather than stopping work altogether. Mid-life career reviews and ongoing training with guidance for those who want to change can offer needed support. For those who have already retired, measures can be brought in that will open up new gateways of work. Improvements such as mature apprenticeships would help those with little experience in a field they have their heart set on. All of this can be done while taking into account the needs of older workers such as family care, menopause, health breaks, etc.
Let’s focus on the three R’s. Retain, retrain and recruit. It is vital that older people are prepared for the modern day job search and eventual interview process. Generally the over 50’s with a lack of IT skills will be brushed aside. Simple classes or even assistance from family or friends would help. It is important to note that we shouldn’t just hire older workers for the sake of it. Having a charity case can be just as condescending as ignoring a candidate based on age. Taking into account the huge opportunity we are presented with. Now is the time we recognise the great work ethic and experience older employees have to offer.