Employers love to talk about their diverse hiring practices. Whether it’s supporting LGBTQ+ workers, setting up programs for neurodiverse employees, or making sure they don’t discriminate against women or people of color — they’ve got it covered.
But where does this leave older workers? According to Lucy Kellaway, contributing author of the Financial Times, “It’s still perfectly acceptable in polite society to be rampantly ageist.” ¹
For example, when hiring managers rule out older workers because they assume they’ll be bad at tech, inflexible, and likely to take off too many sick days
In this article, we’ll look at the benefits of hiring older workers and what your company can do to give them a fair chance during the recruitment process. We’ll also show you how skills-based hiring can help level the playing field for skilled workers of all ages.
A 2021 study showed that workers aged 45+ face an uphill battle when looking for employment.² This is mostly due to hiring managers having a negative or biased view of them. Even when hiring managers think an older candidate will do well on the job, they’re less likely to extend an offer.
However, they’re not the only ones. From recruitment to onboarding, ageism is pervasive throughout the modern workplace. In fact, a World Health Organization survey found that every second person holds ageist attitudes.³
Ageism and the negative stereotypes that come with it — like the perception that older people are resistant to change and have difficulty learning new skills — often lead to a lack of opportunity in the workplace. This involves older candidates not getting called in for interviews and having a higher chance of being laid off or forced into retirement.
Despite holding an MBA in Marketing and Healthcare, seasoned professional Joy Harrity (aged 50+) faced significant obstacles in attempting to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to raise her son:
I used to have a very well-paying, high-level, technical job. And then, when I started to look for work, I was made to feel that there was no way I could try to do that any longer. I would be lucky if I could get an admin job.
Joy Harrity, marketing manager & event specialist at Island Sport, LLC.
Joy’s story sheds light on the struggles older workers face when attempting to re-enter the workforce after an extended break. It also highlights the need for support and assistance programs to help bridge the gap and get experienced professionals back into the labor market.
Let’s look at the benefits of hiring an older workforce and what you can do to support them.
An older workforce can bring many benefits to employers, including winning the war for talent, increased employee experience and dedication, and improved diversity and inclusion.
By recognizing and leveraging the strengths of older workers, you can create a more productive and truly inclusive workplace for all employees. Here’s how:
The global shortage of skilled talent means there’s an opportunity for older workers to help fill it. And since people are living longer on average, the retirement age across the globe is also going up. For example, in the US, older people now have to work until 67, instead of 65, to receive their full pension.⁴
Therefore, with delays in retirement and by working longer, older employees can help bridge gaps in the labor market and provide continuity in the workforce.
Additionally, since older generations are less likely to have high career mobility, they can help improve retention rates in your organization. They’re also more likely to take on flexible work, like part-time or contract work arrangements, which can help you meet staffing needs and retain experienced staff.
Older workers often bring a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience to the job. They typically spend many years in their field, so their expertise and dedication to their craft can be invaluable. For example, in mentoring younger colleagues and providing guidance on complex projects.
According to our 2022 Skills-Based Hiring report, diverse teams are more likely to financially outperform non-diverse teams. But that doesn’t only include women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ employees.
To be truly diverse (and beat your competitors), implement a D&I hiring strategy and policy that attracts and supports all types of candidates and employees, including older ones.
Contrary to popular belief, the main predictors of job performance — knowledge and expertise — can steadily increase beyond the age of 80. And there’s no age limit to learning new things.⁵ All of which means older employees have the capacity to learn new skills while imparting their existing knowledge. They can also be more successful than younger workers at the same skill level.
For example, after finally landing a job in a role relevant to her previous work experience, Joy had to learn new marketing software:
I spoke to the manager who hired me and I said, ‘Listen. I’m going to take some time to look at the software.’ And I did, I took the MasterClass, and I did a fast track class on my personal time the very first weekend that I had gotten the job. And so within days of doing the MasterClass, I then told him that I thought I had value and I demonstrated it by actually being able to utilize the system to create the events.
Joy Harrity, marketing manager & event specialist at Island Sport, LLC.
Now that you know why it’s important and beneficial to hire older employees, let’s take a look at some best practices on how to support them in your work environment:
According to Mona Mourshed, chief executive of Generation, a nonprofit that offers free job training, “Even though bias against older workers is widespread, only about 50% of companies include age as part of their D&I strategy.”
This means any kind of company-wide change can start by acknowledging discrimination faced by older people during hiring, training, and onboarding. As well as coming up with the recruitment steps and company process to prevent it.
Here are some ideas for including older employees in your D&I strategy — and encouraging true psychological safety in the workplace:
Engage employees in D&I discussions. Invite them to participate in D&I workshops and training sessions. Teach them about ageist microaggressions in the workplace and how to identify and handle them.
Ask for feedback. Encourage older workers to provide feedback on existing policies and programs and offer suggestions for improvement.
Create a mentorship program where older, more experienced employees serve as mentors to new graduates or undergraduate students.
Acknowledge the contributions of older employees in your company. Recognize their diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives in monthly newsletters, employee spotlights, and during team-building activities.
Adapt to their needs. Older employees may have different needs and preferences than younger workers. For instance, they may prefer in-person meetings over virtual ones. Make sure that your D&I initiatives are inclusive of all age groups and that they accommodate different communication styles and formats.
Foster a culture of inclusion where you encourage employees to embrace diversity and respect each other’s differences.
To help employees do their best work, keep them motivated and engaged in their roles. With older employees, that might mean reassessing their skills, competencies, and experience, while identifying areas for improvement, or where they might excel.
Then, you might look into your current job descriptions and see how you can accurately reflect the skills required for each role. If necessary, you can revise them to make them more inclusive of older workers and their needs.
When filling positions, make sure to also consider the preferences of your older employees, and where they feel the most valued and engaged in their work. If that’s in a more advanced or technical position, offer training, mentoring, coaching, and opportunities for professional development.
This way, older workers not only experience increased job satisfaction but also get compensated based on skills and performance. Otherwise, a loyalty-based compensation might undervalue them and their output.
Due to the digital skills gap and the rapid-fire pace of technological innovation, older workers, or at least those who have been around longer, can sometimes get skilled out of jobs. For example, when grocery stores replace human clerks with digital self-checkout counters.
To overcome this issue, companies can offer training and reskilling rather than laying off workers that don’t have the necessary skills. Seventy-four percent of older workers who successfully switched careers state that job-relevant training helped them secure their new role. However, 58% of workers over the age of 45 — with the biggest need for training or upskilling — are the most reluctant to pursue it.²
Is it the chicken or the egg? Are older employees really less likely to pursue jobs with new skills or are they made to believe people who aren’t digital natives won’t succeed? One way to find out is to empower your employees with the digital skills training they need, based on skills assessments — and ask for feedback once they’ve completed it.
A typical employee onboarding process can be overwhelming and assume a knowledge of jargon or software that older workers might not have. To be inclusive of different types of employees, consider designing an onboarding process where users can go at their own pace. This helps them adjust to their new work environment and responsibilities in a way that suits them best.
For example, you might do this by giving older employees a customized onboarding checklist that takes into account their prior work experience and knowledge. Consider offering a one-on-one onboarding session where you can discuss their previous experiences and align them with their new role.
Alternatively, if you have a lot of tools and complicated software setups in your onboarding process, you could pair them with someone from your IT or operations department for a collaborative, hands-on training experience.
Skills-based hiring involves using skills-based assessments and talent assessment software to find the best candidates for your open role — solely based on their skills and competencies. This means applicants aren’t judged based on factors that don’t directly translate into work performance, like their age, gender, ethnicity, or sexual preferences.
Dawn, an SEO content writer at TestGorilla, experienced age bias when she tried to become a fashion photographer. Despite having the qualifications and evidence to prove her skills, she was never able to get past the resume stage due to the age bias of employers.
She then turned to writing and freelanced for several sites, but struggled to get contracted jobs because she didn’t have a degree in English or journalism – a classic example of the paper ceiling and degree inflation in action. Dawn stumbled upon TestGorilla’s open role, took an assessment, scored highly, and was hired based on merit. Dawn now has financial security and a job that she loves, thanks to skills-based hiring. And we are so lucky to have her!
Get inspired by Dawn and others like her who have increased their job satisfaction with skills-based recruitment.
With skills-based hiring, you can level the playing field for older employees and get in front of more diverse candidates. Depending on the open position, you can offer skills-based assessments for hard, soft, and transferable skills. You can also do multi-measure testing, and use a talent assessment platform to test across open roles. Or you can pick and choose tests based on your needs. Some tests you can choose from include:
This way, older employees can impress employers for positions requiring in-demand soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, and leadership. They can then learn more technical and digital skills on the job. All of which will help you win the war for talent and close the digital skills gap.
To retain older employees – along with their knowledge and experience – make it viable for them to do their jobs. This goes beyond offering fewer hours or flexible Fridays. Instead, you need to find ways to support them with benefits that keep their work-life balance, well, balanced — and accommodate their changing needs and priorities.
Encouraging hybrid or remote working to help older employees care for their partners, older relatives, or grandchildren
Offering unlimited sick days and personal leave, and building a culture around taking necessary time off
Creating job-sharing opportunities to help split a full-time workload among part-time employees
Providing caregiver support
All of which help to improve the employee experience, as well as boost productivity, morale, and engagement. This keeps older employees around and happier, longer — and saves you money on employee turnover.
To truly enact change across your organization, you need to get buy-in and approval from the top. That means educating employees, team leads, and stakeholders about your company values and D&I initiatives — and getting everyone onboard.
Organize training sessions or workshops centered on the needs and preferences of older employees. This can include topics such as ageism, diversity and inclusion, communication, and providing accommodations.
Share articles, research papers, and other materials related to supporting older employees in the workplace — and how hiring diverse teams can improve your bottom line. This can help team leads and stakeholders better understand the challenges that older employees face and the importance of providing support.
Share examples of successful programs or initiatives implemented by other companies to support older employees. This can help them visualize what can be done in their organization and encourage them to take action.
Encourage open and honest dialogue about their experiences working with older employees. This can help identify areas for improvement and create a culture of inclusivity and support.
Provide resources and support for team leads and stakeholders to help them better support older employees. For example, access to HR professionals, employee assistance programs, and other support resources.
Even companies that tout their equitable D&I hiring strategies and company policies could be overlooking or actively discriminating against older people. Older employees, therefore, face an uphill battle when it comes to getting job offers and staying employed.
Making this group of workers part of your D&I strategy — one that truly encapsulates what it means to be a diverse and inclusive company — can help you win the war for talent. As well as close the digital skills gap.
For example, when you offer support, training, and upskilling opportunities, provide flexible work, and educate team leads and stakeholders, you can better support older workers and outperform your competition. Additionally, when you use a skills-based approach to hiring, you can make sure everyone on your team deserves to be there and is empowered to do their best work, no matter their age or credentials.
“When [hiring managers] finally take the time to meet who I am and learn about what I’ve done, then they love me. I can sell my skills and myself,” Joy says.
Want to put your D&I policy into practice? Skills-based hiring helps you get in front of the best candidates — no matter their background (or age). Download the State of Skills-based Hiring 2022 report to learn more. Sources
“On Point. Today’s News. Tomorrow’s Insights.” (March 2022) McKinsey & Company. Retrieved April 4, 2023. https://www.mckinsey.com/~/media/mckinsey/email/onpoint/2022/02/2022-02-28-on-point.html
“Generation 2021 Annual Report.” (2021) Generation.org. Retrieved April 4th, 2023. https://www.generation.org/annualreport-2021/
“Ageism is a global challenge: UN” (March 2021) World Health Organization. Retrieved April 4, 2023. https://www.who.int/news/item/18-03-2021-ageism-is-a-global-challenge-un#:~:text=Prevalence%20figures%20based%20on%20a,(i.e.%20stereotypes%20and%20prejudice)
“What Is Full Retirement Age in 2023?” (February 2023) Nasdaq. Retrieved April 4, 2023. https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/what-is-full-retirement-age-in-2023
“The Case for Hiring Older Workers” (September 2019) Harvard Business Review. Retrieved April 4, 2023. https://hbr.org/2019/09/the-case-for-hiring-older-workers
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