Many companies express concern about filling the places of their most experienced employees. It turns out that seniors, for reasons as varied as the economy and a sense of fulfillment, are staying in the workforce longer, and many boomers intend to work for five, ten or more years past the traditional 65.
Our increased life expectancy and the economy are major factors in this trend, of course. But many seniors also wish to keep working because they gain a sense of fulfillment and purpose from their work. And studies show that work can be good for our emotional and intellectual well-being. For example, a recent study from the American Psychological Association suggests that older adults who continue working at least part-time “experience fewer major diseases and are able to function better day-to-day than people who stop work altogether.”
Not everyone wants to or will be able to work into their senior years. A change in health status or family caregiving duties may force a change of plans. And some mature job seekers are running into a bias against hiring older workers—a prejudice made up largely of erroneous stereotypes. Myths abound when it comes to older workers, and these misperceptions can stand between an employer and the best person for the job.
Take this quiz to test your knowledge about seniors in the workplace:
True or False?
- By the year 2020, 1 in 5 American workers will be over 55.
- Training older employees is a wasted investment, because they will only be on the job a few more years.
- These days, when people retire, they would rather volunteer to stay active than continue paid work.
- Older workers aren’t as productive as younger workers.
- Older workers take off more sick days.
- Older workers are less likely to jump from job to job.
- Older workers don’t learn new skills as quickly as their younger counterparts.
- As they age, employees remain equally adaptable to change.
- Older workers must take off more time for family responsibilities than younger people.
- If an older adult suspects he or she has been terminated on grounds of age, there is recourse through the law.
Answers to “Older Workers: Myth or Fact?”
1. By the year 2020, 1 in 5 American workers will be over 55.
True. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, by the end of this decade, the percentage of workers over 55 will rise by 36%. And the percentage of workers over 65 will almost double, to 7%.
2. Training older employees is a wasted investment, because they will only be on the job a few more years.
False. The age of retirement is rising. And along with that, the speed of technology change is increasing. This means that a 55-year-old employee who receives technical training will probably still be on the job when the technology is obsolete. Equipping mature employees with skill upgrades makes sense.
3. These days, when people retire, they would rather volunteer to stay active than continue paid work.
True…and False. While volunteer work brings many rewards and a sense of fulfillment and giving back for seniors, more and more retirees are combining both volunteer and paid work.
4. Older workers aren’t as productive as younger workers.
False. Productivity tends to rise as workers grow older, due to their increased experience, dependability and judgment.
5. Older workers take off more sick days.
False. According to a recent study, workers over 45 call in sick an average of 3.1 days per year, compared to workers aged 17-44, who take an average of 3.8 days. In addition, mature employees are less likely to be injured on the job.
6. Older workers are less likely to jump from job to job.
True. Younger workers are more likely to leave an employer for another position, making older adults a statistically better bet when it comes to investing in training.
7. Older workers don’t learn new skills as quickly as their younger counterparts.
False. The old cliche of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is just that: a stereotype. Though a small percentage of people over 65 do experience significant loss of cognitive function, most older adults apply their increased experience and wisdom to learn new skills quickly.
8. Senior employees are less adaptable to change.
False. While older adults are more likely to question change, they are equally adaptable once they realize the reason for the change. Older adults offer the wisdom gained from learning by their or their company’s mistakes.
9. Older workers must take off more time for family responsibilities than younger people.
False. While some older adults have family caregiving responsibilities, on average younger adults request more time off, for children’s illnesses, appointments, school events, etc.
10. If an older adult suspects her or she has been terminated on grounds of age, there is recourse through the law.
True. The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discrimination against a person because of “his/her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training.”
For More Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers interesting background information about older people in the workplace.
The National Council on Aging offers information and resources for mature job seekers, including the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which helps older job-seekers find positions in community service organizations.