5 ways to make your workplace more attractive to mature workers
Workplaces are going to become a lot more diverse in the future when it comes to age - they are going to have to. After the last census in 2017 Statistics New Zealand reported in "Workers aged 55+ keen to stay working full time" that the number of 55+ in the labour force is expected to grow from 485,600 people in 2011 to 823,400 in 2036 - a 70% increase!
With the average age of the workforce increasing, the typical mix of ages in any business is going to change. This places responsibility on businesses to be more inclusive when it comes to older workers, not only just to keep them employed but to provide an environment where they can continue to reach their full potential.
Organisations will go about this in different ways, but the important thing is to never underestimate your people, especially those who are older. In our experience in the recruitment sector, we have come across many pre-conceived notions or even myths about older workers, and almost all of them are wrong. Sometimes it is even shocking to hear what people perceive to be the reality about older workers. So we wanted to do a little bit to set the record straight by providing some of our views about what older workers are really like:
They are actually more receptive to technology than many people would think - we had one comment about this early on when a Wise One responded to a comment about technology and older workers by asking "who do you think invented computers in the first place?!"
They have a lifetime of learning and will learn new processes and ways of doing things very quickly
They don't need special privileges and would like to be treated the same as anyone else taking on the same job - this myth about entitlement is a topic we will discuss in more detail soon
Older workers can focus just as much and just as well as their younger counterparts - quite often they will not have children at home any more so do not have those types of responsibilities
Older workers are not self-conscious about their age and won't let it get in the way of getting the job done
For example, one popular belief about older workers is that they have little or no motivation to work in the environment that their younger counterparts operate in. There are more and more reasons to continue working. Some need to keep the bank balance ticking over, while others want to stay involved and engaged and feel part of the workplace. This mental stimulus is very important and it helps people avoid boredom. Whatever the reason, people are wanting to work past the typical retirement age, they don't want a life focused only on leisure and there's no reason why they can't have this.
So how can employers make them feel more welcome?
5 ways to make your workplace more attractive to older workers
Start with your employees
People come to work, to work with people - so it's your employees that will be the first thing your older workers will consider when thinking of staying on in a business or joining.
This is why your culture is so important, which is made up of the "evolving set of collective beliefs, values and attitudes that has an impact on strategic direction and influences management, decisions and all business functions."
An important aspect of this is treating older workers in just the same way you would treat anyone else - they are no different, although they come with a huge amount of experience and knowledge. Part of growing the right culture is ensuring everyone in your organisation has a good understanding of inclusion and diversity. Countless studies show that a workplace that is inclusive and diverse is better and more effective, and age diversity is a very important part of this.
If you can foster a work environment that accepts people for who they are and what they can do, this can be a welcome shift from the approach that discounts people because of their age.
Technology and equipment
There is a myth that older workers aren't necessarily as technologically savvy as their younger colleagues. Nothing could be further from the truth. Social media research shows the 55+ bracket are regular users of the main channels with over 20% of the share of usage of Facebook and over 30% of LinkedIn. These figures are equivalent or sometimes over other age-groups.
These people are also avid smartphone users with ResearchNZ reporting 79% of people in this age bracket where daily users of smartphones. Many have kids who have grown up in the digital and social media era, so you need to ask the question how did they communicate with their kids in their teenage years? Yes, you're right, through social media, and now they will be Facetiming and Skyping and keeping in touch on IM and WhatsApp and SnapChat.
Don't underestimate their digital savviness! And if there are any gaps, they will be quick learners.
Listen and communicate!
Open communication is the key to understanding your workers and listening is at the core of this. People 55+ started work in the pre-internet era and have evolved the way they communicate as technology has changed.
While they should be communicated to in exactly the same way as anyone else any manager working with an older worker in her team needs to appreciate they won't communicate in exactly the same way as someone in their early twenties. And this is probably a good thing.
This is because they started their career in a paper or early computer-based era where accuracy, first time, was needed, far more than it is now. The speed of communication has also increased exponentially.
There are very different styles of listening and communicating among different age groups. None are wrong but an appreciation of how they operate is important.
As workers get older they may want to change the way they work – working reduced hours, working some days from home, job share or having a phased approach to retirement.
For the individual, it provides the opportunity to stay involved and earning while also having extra leisure time. For businesses, it means retaining the skills and knowledge, but not paying someone a full-time wage.
For many people, after 40-50 years of working it's very understandable, they would want some more leisure time. They may have things they've always wanted to do, have family they want to spend more time with or just spend more time in their own communities.
Organisations that embrace flexibility will gain enormously from the knowledge and experience older workers can offer.
Learn from them
Older workers have a wealth of experience to pass down to younger co-workers, even to ones who are higher up than them in the job hierarchy. If you want to keep older workers engaged one of the best ways is to provide opportunities for them to share their experience.
This is more than just providing insight, they can also function as mentors - as experts in their field. It’s also essential to create opportunities where your older workers can share their knowledge. This could be as easy as encouraging collaboration between the generations in your workplace.
A balancing act
Hiring older workers could be the key to addressing many problems that the modern workplace faces today from losing knowledge, to not finding the right skills. While it’s important to make them feel welcome and create an environment where they can thrive, it’s also essential to think of where you can use their knowledge and experience to improve your business as a whole.
Older workers bring plenty of value to a company, and any employer who wants to engage a skilled, motivated, and disciplined workforce cannot afford to ignore them, says the Harvard Business Review.
There are compelling reasons why organisations in the private and public sector need to consider the benefits of employing older workers. Views and attitudes may need to change but changing demographics cannot be ignored.