Older Workers: The Resource

A few readers responded to the last post by commenting that older workers seem to be taking jobs typically filled by younger workers.  In the last year, the mainstream media appears to sympathize with this concern as the level of older employees nears the same employment level of younger workers (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/07/older-workers-are-about-to-surpass-younger-workers-for-the-1st-time/259521/).  The basis of the concern pertains to two interrelated factors that create barriers to employment: less jobs due to the downturn and the need for older workers to hold jobs longer.  Clearly, economic realities and uncertainty among employers has slowed hiring since late 2007 (http://www.bls.gov/web/jolts/jlt_labstatgraphs.pdf). Although the trend continues to improve, it has not returned to 2007 levels.   The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report on job openings finds:

In July 2012, there were 3.7 million job openings, which was 68 percent higher than the series low in July 2009. The level was still well below the 4.7 million openings at the peak in March 2007.

Most data indicates that older worker are competing with younger workers as well as holding jobs applicable to younger workers.  Unemployment with older workers increased dramatically since the recession. The unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older increased from 3.1 percent in December 2007 to a high of 7.6 percent in February 2010.  It has dropped to 6 percent in December 2011. In other words, some of the lack of openings relates to a greater presence of older workers in the labor force.  Before the downturn, older workers retired and reentered the workforce in smaller numbers (http://www.realclearmarkets.com/articles/2012/05/17/an_unemployment_crisis_for_older_or_younger_workers_99672.html).

Why? With the downturn, older workers need to work longer to make ends meet and possess high levels of unemployment in higher-level jobs still present in the current economy. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/05/long-term-unemployment-a-_n_1857516.html).

Older workers offer an incredible resource to your organization.  The combination of skills, experiences, and work ethic provide a significant value. In order to realize that value, several key factors need to be considered:

Desiring higher compensation

Many times when retirees reenter the workforce, the new job falls below the previous level of responsibility and pay.  Lifestyle changes typically accompany retirement, but older workers looking for work after a layoff have different needs than retirees reentering the workforce to help make ends meet.  A laid off worker seeks to replace a previous job while a retiree may be looking for something with a decent wage and offers an interesting or less demanding experience.  In addition, organizations should be careful that it remains fair between worker groups and recognizes the change in expectations among older workers.

Working for younger managers

Different generations possess different needs, values, and attitudes.  Every manager struggles with developing a unique relationship with each direct report.  When multiple generations come into play, the relationship formation process grows in complication.  Older workers typically grapple with working for a younger manager.  Younger managers need training in how best to interact and manage their older workforce just as older managers prepare for the cultural differences between themselves and younger workers.

Needing to update some skills

One of the biggest concerns of most employers relates to the relevance of older worker skills.  The classic stereotype of the older worker not knowing how to operate a computer ceased in the last decade, but employers still fear that older workers require significant training and motivation to accept change.  Like any hire, an organization should assess the potential candidate’s current capabilities or skills, willingness to learn, and potential capability in the future.  Moreover, if an organization wants to leverage the wealth of value held by older workers, it behooves an organization to customize some of its training to address typical skills shortfalls among older workers.

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