Hiring older workers for high-performance businesses

Generational diversity, reliability, interpersonal skills, and loyalty for the win

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Generational diversity, like all types of diversity, strengthens organizations. The benefits of generational diversity in the workplace include:

  • Cognitive diversity — each generation has its own way of approaching problems and understanding solutions
  • Increased innovation — teams composed of like-minded members tend to maintain their status quo, while diverse teams question assumptions
  • Broader customer base — diverse communication styles appeal to a broad customer base.

As Ryan Jenkins notes in his article for Inc. Magazine, “a team that benefits from generational diversity will be able to communicate with the confidence of a Baby Boomer, the experience of Generation X, and the velocity of a Millennial.”

Around the world, people are living longer and working longer. A worker hired at age 50 may give 20 or more years of service. In fact, the Washington Post reports that more Americans age 85 and older are employed than ever before.

The terms “mature” and “experienced” should be attractive to employers. But older workers have been negatively stereotyped in America, and to the detriment of business. The truth is that people over 50 are the fastest growing group of workers, projected to be 35% of the workforce by 2022. They’re also quite possibly the demographic that’s poised to contribute the greatest value to a company. Consider these facts:

  • 50+ workers have spent decades honing the soft skills that businesses need — professional, courteous communication, customer service, and problem-solution analysis.
  • 50+ workers exhibit a higher degree of company loyalty than their younger counterparts. This translates into a much lower, much less costly unexpected turnover rate. Employers face a 49% unexpected turnover rate among their younger workers, but the rate for older workers is only 29%.
  • Minimal cost differentials compared to younger workers — costs that may be offset by the value mature workers add to high-performing organizations.
  • Workers over 55 have a higher degree of engagement than those who are under 55. And higher employee engagement equals higher revenues.

How and where can businesses recruit mature workers?

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My expertise on this topic comes from a combination of personal experience as a job seeker, and professional experience as a business owner, higher education administrator, and employment coach.

In 2015, at 58 years old, I needed a new job but was afraid I wouldn’t get one — because of my age.

My fear was based in reality: after the Great Recession, women over 50 stayed jobless more than any other demographic. They faced a double-whammy of age and gender discrimination.

Luckily, I landed a job that aligned with my values and allowed me to use my education and experience. The job was with a grant-funded program at a college that was part of AARP Foundation’s BACK TO WORK 50+ network. I conducted outreach to local employers, facilitated seminars on the job search process, coached individual job-seekers, wrote grant applications and reports, and otherwise contributed to the impact and success of our program.

Employers can recruit qualified, mature workers through the BACK TO WORK 50+ network. Employers can call the national office directly at 855–850–2525, or contact local partners. Local partners currently include:


Employers can also adapt existing recruitment strategies to increase the number of mature applicants by employing best practices for diversity recruitment, fine-tuned for the 50+ demographic:

  • Make generational diversity part of the corporate culture — a part that’s visible to job candidates.
  • Ensure that job specs are written in a way that isn’t off-putting to older applicants. Just as terms like “competitive environment” can be more attractive to men than to women, terms like “vibrant” can signal a preference for younger applicants.
  • Create generationally diverse hiring committees, and educate them about generational diversity. Let mature applicants know they will be a good fit for the organization.
  • Post job openings in a variety of locations. “Baby Boomers are more likely to use traditional job boards to search,” according to HR Professionals Magazine.

Once experienced workers are on board, what are the best retention strategies for the over-50 demographic?

“A black-and-white shot of multiple building floors seen from a terrace” by Pipe A. on Unsplash

Mature workers may have different priorities than millennials or Gen X-ers. While opportunities for advancement may not be at the top of their list, job satisfaction is important, along with opportunities for creativity and engagement. Also, older workers “will probably look more closely at health care and other traditional benefits offerings than younger workers.

Practices that can help with retention of mature talent include:

  • Flexible scheduling options
  • Formal recognition of contributions to the company’s success
  • Ongoing learning opportunities

In other words, older workers want the same things that most employees want: to be treated as individuals, to feel valued, and to have opportunities to learn and grow.

Mature workers already contribute their great work ethic, company loyalty, professional experience, and well-developed soft skills to forward-looking organizations.

Recruiting and retaining experienced workers can mean increased revenues for high-performing businesses.

And that’s the bottom line.

For more detailed data on benefits of hiring mature workers, see “A Business Case for Workers Age 50+,” a report prepared for AARP by Aon Hewitt.

Words in NYT, WaPo, Oprah Mag, Poets&Writers, et als. Adoptee/high school dropout/hep C survivor/former trial attorney. @MicheleJSharpe & MicheleSharpe.com

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