10 things to know about older workers and the labor shortage
This week’s column addresses older workers, who are often perceived as an undervalued segment of the labor force. This lack of recognition was recently upended by a Wall Street Journal headline: “Bosses Want Hard Workers – So They are Hiring Older People.”
This sounds like a new discovery. It is not.
Let’s go back to 1970. In that year, Harold L. Sheppard wrote a book, “Towards an Industrial Gerontology,” considered a new field of social research. It focused on the employment and retirement problems of middle-aged and older workers. Although published over 50 years ago, the book’s Table of Contents reads like it’s 2023 with chapter titles such as “Retraining and Job Redesign,” “Older Workers in Pursuit of New Careers,” “On Age Discrimination” and “The Second Career.”
So why is the older worker finally coming into vogue?
A significant labor force shortage may be part of the answer. Compared to 2020, 3 million fewer Americans are in the labor force. Yet currently there are more than 10.4 million job openings with about 1.2 million adults in their 40s, 50s and 60s who make up half of the long-term unemployed.
Let’s try to understand the problem. We’ve had the pandemic and the Great Resignation. Now we have the “quiet quitters” who typically complete minimum work requirements to keep their jobs. Some folks no longer want to work because they aren’t paid enough, don’t see opportunities to advance and feel they are not respected. And many want to work only on their terms. Add to that, workers 65 and older generally value hard work more than their younger counterparts, according to research studies. Note, there always are exceptions.
Older adults may face several obstacles in securing employment such as mismatched skills, technology challenges, long commutes, the value of youth over age and more. However, there may be a more subtle underlying reason: Ageism
What do we know about older workers? Take the following quiz to check myths vs facts.
1. Older workers tend to stay in their jobs for a shorter amount of time, compared to younger workers.
False. Older workers generally stay in their job longer than younger workers. In 2022, the median tenure for men ages 55-64 was almost 10 years compared to almost three years for those 25-34.
2. Older workers are consistently more productive than younger workers.
True. A study found that among 65 to 80-year-olds, their performance was more stable and less variable from day to day compared to the younger group.
3. Older workers take more sick leave compared to younger workers.
False. Older workers generally take fewer sick days than younger workers. However, their length of sick time may be longer.
4. Age is one part of DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) as a category for inclusion.
False. DEI efforts most often do not include age as a consideration. Yet over 80% of people ages 50-80 experience ageism every day.
5. Older workers tend to have lower health care costs.
True. They tend to have lower healthcare costs since most do not have children as dependents on their plans. Additionally, those age 65 and older are eligible for Medicare which also can reduce employers’ health care costs.
6. Older workers consistently cost more.
False. Older workers often cost less than younger coworkers because there is less need for costly recruitment and training.
7. Older workers have more workplace accidents than younger workers.
False. In fact, they have fewer accidents. However, the causes are different. Older workers often have accidents related to speed and reaction time while younger often have accidents due to lack of experience and often judgment.
8. Beginning at age 55, workers are legally protected from age discrimination in the workplace.
False. The legal protection for workers begins at age 40. It is illegal for employers to fire or refuse to hire someone on the basis of their age for those aged 40 and older, according to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
9 Mandatory retirement is allowed in some cases.
True. These are called BFOQs, or bona fide occupational qualifications. They usually pertain to jobs that involve public safety such as police, firefighters and airline pilots.
10. Older workers are less productive than younger workers.
False. At best, they are equal or slightly ahead of younger workers. According to the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy, “On balance, older employees’ productivity and reliability is higher than that of their younger colleagues.”
The current workforce shortages and the availability of qualified older workers may change some age-biased stereotyped thinking. For now, ageism may be taking a “second seat.” Hopefully, this relatively new recognition will endure.
Stay well everyone and note: “Kindness is free; sprinkle it everywhere.” ~unknown
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity