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January 8, 2019

Gray Area: A Simple Framework for Winning with the Aging Workforce

winning with the aging workforce

The next 15 years will mark important demographic breakthroughs for the American workforce as aging changes the rules of recruitment and hiring. Think you got what it takes to engage older talent?

Research shows that by 2035, for the first time in US history, Americans aged 65 and older will exceed the number of people under 18.

Fact is, the world is getting older. But what’s striking is we often see that as an HR obstacle, not an opportunity.

It stings to admit it, but we can all be pretty blind to the potential of aging employees. According to HBR’s recent 7-part series on the aging workforce, that’s a huge mistake.

Because the thing about older workers most of us forget is that they’re just as skilled and diverse as their millennial counterparts.

As Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin explains in his best-seller, The Longevity Economy, the growing older market is a wide group “that consistently defies expectations: people who, through their continued personal and professional ambition, desire for experience, and quest for self-actualization, are building a striking, unheralded vision of longer life that very few in business fully understand.”

So why are we still overlooking the opportunities aging candidates can offer?

The Seriously Uncool Myths Driving Ageism

The fact that the world’s population is getting older comes with an almost automatic assumption that this will negatively impact our society.

But that’s bogus.

Researchers at the Stanford Center on Longevity revealed that the typical 60-something worker has the following traits. (All of which would be irresistible qualities in any candidate, regardless of age.)

They found that older workers are:

  • Healthy, experienced, and more likely than younger colleagues to be satisfied with their jobs
  • Strong workers that are also fiercely loyal to their employers
  • Motivated, knowledgeable and adept at resolving social dilemmas
  • Concerned more about meaningful contributions and less about self-advancement

With 8 in 10 workers between the ages of 45 to 64 reporting that they’re totally down to learn new skills, there’s just no good reason why so many employers feel they have to target their recruiting, hiring and development efforts toward workers under 50.

And the kicker?

Even the companies who claim to embrace diversity still fail to acknowledge older talent.

As Patricia Milligan, senior partner and global leader for Mercer’s Multinational Client Group points out, “at the most respected multinational companies, the single class not represented from a diversity and inclusion perspective is older workers. LGBT, racial and ethnic diversity, women, people with physical disabilities, veterans — you can find an affinity group in a corporation for everything, except for an older worker.”

You’d never shy away from hiring someone because of their race or gender. So why ignore talent based on age?

It’s time for employers to step up and find ways to leverage the power of older candidates. That’s where the “longevity strategy” can help.

How to hire awesome older talent using the longevity strategy

Created by the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, companies can use a simple framework to set up a “longevity strategy” and take advantage of all the sweet perks a truly diverse multigenerational workforce can offer.

Here’s how to build your own longevity strategy.

1. Redefine the workweek

These days, there’s really no point in hanging on to the primitive concept of working in the same office, Monday to Friday from 9 to 5.

As HBR’s Paul Irving suggests, “Companies instead should invest in opportunities for creative mentorship, part-time work, flex-hour schedules, and sabbatical programs geared to the abilities and inclinations of older workers.”

Not sure where to start? Take Home Depot’s example. The national retailer hires retired construction workers to help take customer service to the next level. Or follow Michelin’s lead. The tire manufacturer rehires their retirees as project managers and mentors.

2. Reimagine the workplace

Is your work environment age-friendly?

It’s amazing how little things can make a major impact on your employees’ health and safety. Xerox has an ergonomic training program with the specific goal of nixing painful musculoskeletal disorders in its aging employees.

And both BMW and Nissan have taken some smart steps to change up their manufacturing lines, including some super comfy barbershop-style chairs and smarter “cobots” (collaborative robots — yes, it’s a thing) that literally do the heavy lifting. 🤖👏

3. Mind the mix

The fact that employees choose to stay in the workplace longer, means we have more generations in the workplace than ever before — five actually.

Employers who think outside the box to find creative ways to leverage shared values of all five generations will put themselves miles ahead of the competition.

But exactly how do you do that?

Here are some simple but powerful ideas from HR advisor Rebecca Knight.

  • Don’t dwell on differences. Kill the stereotypes and focus on what brings people together.
  • Build collaborative relationships. Human connection is like kryptonite for prejudices, biases and assumptions.
  • Study your employees. Use annual surveys and questionnaires to understand the people behind the demographics.
  • Embrace cross-generational mentoring. Give all age groups the chance to learn from each other.
  • Consider life paths. It doesn’t matter when we were born, each and every one of us cares about our future.

Ready to push past stereotypes, drive growth and create opportunities for all candidates? Breezy’s got your back.