According to an AARP report, more than 78% of older workers have seen or directly experienced age discrimination in the workplace. On top of that, 64% of workers 50 years of age and older believe employers see their age as a disadvantage in getting hired, and 79% of those 65 and older feel their age hurts their chances to get the job.
Age bias makes it difficult for older workers to make headway in the labor market. Such attitudes make little economic sense given the strong business case for hiring and retaining older workers. Knowledge and expertise — the main predictors of job performance — increase in perpetuity the longer one works, advantaging older workers who are more likely to have spent more years working than their younger counterparts. They frequently outperform their younger counterparts on many other key metrics of worker success, such as less absenteeism, less turnover, and stronger interpersonal skills.
Besides being strong individual contributors, older adults bring cognitive diversity to their teams, which increases organizational performance. One study found that the relative productivity of both older and younger workers is higher in companies that utilize mixed-age work teams. Another found that age diversity within a team was positively related to performance for groups involved in complex decision-making tasks. Age diversity within a company can also lower employee turnover.
For companies convinced that age must be included as a dimension of their overall DEI strategy, there are several steps they can take to increase age diversity within their workforce.
Returnships are full-time paid internships for adults who have been out of the workforce for several years or more. People who are returning to the workforce might have retired and now want or need to return to work to restart or change careers. Perhaps they have taken time off to care for an elderly parent or raise a family. Returnships help people get back to paid work, all while giving employers a chance to diversify their workforce so that it looks more like the communities their organizations are serving.
Partner with organizations that can help recruit talent across all ages
To achieve an age diverse workforce, a company must put generational diversity at the core of its equity strategies and goaling. Partnering with organizations that help older adults acquire the skills they need to get hired in today’s labor market is one way to supercharge an organization’s efforts to achieve an age diverse workforce. Such partnerships can provide ready access to a talent pool of older workers.
AARP Foundation has several workforce programs that give older, low-income adults the job skills and confidence they need to succeed in today’s workplace. AARP Foundation’s new $10 million grant from Google.org will help fund the Digital Skills Ready@50+ initiative to train vulnerable older adults — especially women and people of color in underserved communities — in the digital skills they need to succeed in today’s tech-focused workplace, so they are job-ready when companies need workers.
Partnering with organizations like AARP Foundation can provide companies seeking older adult workers with a pipeline of candidates to consider, greatly enlarging their recruiting pool.
Provide incentives to help workers remain on the job longer
There are a variety of incentives companies can provide to help older workers stay on the job longer. Some older workers may wish to phase into retirement rather than leave the workplace abruptly, or they may want to retrain for a new challenge. Providing flexible work schedules, sabbaticals, or caregiving options can make staying in the workplace longer more appealing. Other employers have found that allowing full-time workers to shift to part-time, but still investing in their benefits, has provided those workers with extra incentive to postpone retirement.
Remove age limits on apprenticeship programs
Apprenticeships are a key part of employee development at some companies and there can be age limits on who is eligible to apply. One way to develop an age-inclusive workforce is to remove all age limits from such programs. From there, organizations should not only encourage older applicants to apply for these programs, but recruit them in order to continually invest in developing their skills.
By following these strategies, companies and organizations can reap the many benefits of an age-diverse, multigenerational workforce and help fill job openings that have gone wanting far too long in the current economy.