Washington, DC - The oldest segments of the population are also the fastest growing segments of the American labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reports that younger members of the workforce have a stable, lower level of participation but the numbers of older workers – those 65 to 75 and older – are expected to increase steadily through 2024.
“It’s a good thing,” says Dan Weber, president of the Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC]. “The reason: an older workforce is a more engaged workforce. Gallup says that older workers are more ‘involved in and enthusiastic about their work and are more productive in their workplaces – than younger workers. People are not only living longer these days, they’re living healthier, more active lives. That, combined with the greater freedom at home that comes with reduced family obligations, makes older employees more focused on the satisfaction of a job well done.”
Weber also points out that employers gain a competitive advantage by utilizing the experience and know-how of older workers and taking advantage of the knowledge they’ve gained over the years.
The Society for Human Resource Management conducted research and “found that the top three advantages of older workers, compared with other workers, are more work experience (77%), higher level of maturity/professionalism (71%) and stronger work ethic (70%).” The SHRM reported that 92% of Human Resource professionals who participated in the study “indicated employees in their organizations are receptive to working with older workers (92%), learning from older workers (91%) and being mentored by older workers (86%) to ‘some’ or a ‘great extent’.”
In addition, working seniors have a positive effect on the economy. They have more disposable income and, as a result, have created a growth market for private sector companies catering to their needs.
Meanwhile, the AMAC chief acknowledges that workplaces have become more dependent on new and developing technologies than ever before. And, Weber admits that some employers might think that seniors who remain on the job as they grow older might not be able to adapt. But, he adds, the old saw that suggests you can’t teach an old dog new tricks misses the mark, noting that the former chairman of General Electric, Jack Welch, proved it.
In 1999, Welch created what he called a reverse mentoring program at GE that paired “employees in their 20s and 30s who were knowledgeable about the Internet and interested in new technology with executives—including Welch, himself—who were novices in that realm.”
It was an initiative that The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College says quickly caught on.
The Sloan Center described it as a Cross-Generational Transfer of Knowledge About Social Media in a report on how The Hartford created its own, successful program. The report concluded: “The opportunities for learning and open discussion that reverse mentoring provides are fluid and countless. The new relationships formed by mentors and mentees can be inspiring and genuine.”
Ageism is still a problem for older workers, according to Weber, but there are signs that employers are waking up to the reality that there are a lot of benefits to keeping senior employees on their payrolls and hiring from the fast-growing pool of older job seekers. “They are beginning to realize that seniors can adapt to new ways, as Jack Welch proved, and that they can be excellent role models for younger workers, that their enthusiasm is infectious, that in most cases the work means more to them than their paychecks and, of course, that they have had a lifetime of learning from their mistakes.”