Recently I saw the movie The Intern. Robert De Niro plays a restless, technophobe retiree who lands a job as an intern with a young online fashion retailer – seemingly with few relevant skills – but over time the character’s wisdom and experience prove crucial in the company’s success.
Look beyond the Hollywood veneer and the film is highly poignant because many Australians today find themselves in retirement despite feeling they still have plenty to contribute to the world of work. We are living longer and healthier lives.
As governments push for more self-funded retirements, we need – and often want – to work longer, but it’s not always possible.
A recent study by the University of South Australia found almost a third of Australians perceived some form of age-related discrimination while employed or looking for work in the last 12 months – starting as early as 45 years of age.
According the UN, almost 700 million people are now over the age of 60. By 2050, 2 billion people, over 20 percent of the world’s population, will be 60 or older.
At a time when flexible, remote, casual and part-time work is increasingly standard – and with skills shortages present across many industries – organisations could do better at nurturing older workers.
Here are a few compelling reasons why retaining and hiring mature-age employees could boost your organisation.
They can (ironically) improve retention
Retention saves money. Often businesses are afraid to hire someone on the verge of retirement because they are trying to improve retention, but loyalty is now a fading phenomenon.
Chances are a 60-year old worker is more likely to stay with your organisation for five years than a 25-year old thinking about travel, starting a family or moving interstate – particularly if that employee truly enjoys working and does not want to retire.
To improve retention, businesses should be opening their doors people of all ages and backgrounds and investing in their development and wellbeing.
They already have ‘future skills’
We talk a lot about the need for organisations undergoing digital transformation to foster ‘future skills’ to ensure their employees have the ability to adapt to change and work with new technologies.
These are qualities like teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving and communication. These are skills we often learn anyway, but it takes time.
Most older workers have had that time; they understand workplace politics, they know to communicate ideas, to work with people at different levels of an organisation, to troubleshoot issues. Mature-age employees can bring a depth of thinking that can truly complement a younger workforce and make for a very strong team.
They keep calm and carry on
When something goes wrong in a workplace, we look to experience to manage it. A younger hire may have graduated top of the class but not yet learned how to react appropriately under pressure.
Maturity comes from years of life and work experience and creates employees who get less “rattled” when problems occur. In this context, they can also be great mentors for younger generations.
They can learn new tricks
The truth is that older people have a strong appetite to learn and apply new technologies. Evercore ISI estimates that 14 million US baby boomers expect to migrate to mobile within four years and are catching up with millennials.
Technology companies are increasingly simplifying their user interfaces to cater to older users and there is no reason why mature age workers can’t adapt to technology in the workplace.
Besides, given the pace of change, the onus is on every company to ensure continuous learning for all employees. We encourage our customers to introduce on-demand digital skills training and continuous corporate learning for all staff, so they can develop new skills in a format suitable to them.
Diverse organisations perform better
Multiple studies have found that gender, ethnically and culturally diverse organisations perform better, and now a University of Zurich study has found that an increase in age diversity can have substantial positive productivity effects, particularly in innovative and creative companies.
While individual productivity may decline the older we get, organisational productivity does not necessarily – in fact the opposite.
While not every mature-age employee will be able or willing to take on the same role they would have twenty years earlier, their presence in a business enriches the depth of brain power and personalities available to it, and that’s a good thing.
Hiring or retaining on older employee might mean tweaking to a job description, reassigning staff, or offering part-time or more flexible conditions. If this seems like a hassle, think instead about what you are missing by letting them pass you by.
Rosie Cairnes is the Regional Director at Skillsoft ANZ.
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