Article | 7 min read

Think you have diversity covered? Think again. Diversity is more than skin deep.

By Page Grossman

Last updated June 15, 2017

Are you in the market for some new talent? Is your company struggling to keep up with recruiting, hiring, and training? Good news! There’s a pool of candidates out there that are already trained, understand professional etiquette, and are eager to share their expertise and wisdom.

Extra bonus: they know how to expertly manage those troublesome Millennials. That’s great news, right?

Chances are, you’ve already reviewed their resumes or conducted first-round interviews. And you’ve already passed them over. You have a bias.

Hint: These job-seekers know how to manage Millennials because they raised them. Yes, I’m talking about the over 50 cohort.

Breaking down the biases

Yeah, yeah, you’re probably already coming up with myriad reasons why hiring an employee who’s over 50 isn’t right for your company. I’m here to help you recognize, break down,

Just to prove the point that this is an issue: the average duration of unemployment for older workers is 54.3 weeks, and climbing. For those under age 55, the average number of weeks they’re unemployed is 28.2 and declining.

And if you actually need convincing, older employees help diversify your teams. And diverse teams are proven to be more innovative and successful. Diverse teams produce 15 percent higher ROI and help companies capture 45 percent more market share.

Yes, it’s time to break-down those biases.

Older employees will retire in a few years. This is probably one of the most common “reasons” that companies don’t want to hire over 50 workers. I’ve got news for you: 51 percent of Millennials expect to leave their jobs within the next two years. Young or old, the workforce is just more mobile than it used to be.

51 percent of Millennials expect to leave their jobs within the next two years. Young or old, the workforce is just more mobile than it used to be.

In a survey completed by Harvard Business Review, they found that only 39 percent of those over 60 and only 20 percent of those over 70 want to slow down. People are living longer and are therefore working longer. Older employees aren’t that interested in retiring.

At the same time the workplace is getting more dynamic. It’s now more common to see employees who take time off to have children, travel, focus on a side hustle, or go back to school. This mixing of education, life, and work should make it easier for companies to integrate older employees into full-time or even part-time positions.

Older employees aren’t invested in learning. Harvard Business Review found exactly the opposite. HBR says that 72 percent of workers age 31-45 were investing in new skills while 60 percent of those over 45 were interested in learning new things.

Here’s an anecdote to illustrate. My mom and my significant other’s mom are both Boomers, both in their early 60s. When my mom decided she wanted a laptop, I helped her pick out a Chromebook. A week later she ordered a book from Amazon on how to use Google Docs. Though I would’ve Googled my problem to find a solution, she prefers paper. Either way, she’s now a pro. (Hi, mom! Love you!)

My S.O.’s mom has been using Google Sheets for a complicated project that spans years. She had called my S.O. a few times for advice and then the calls got less and less. I asked her the other day how she was doing with it and she told me that she had found lessons on YouTube to teach her everything she needed to know.

To hiring managers, these women would likely be less desirable candidates. The reality? Two Boomers in their 60s learning how to use the Google Drive suite, two different solutions, but totally self-sufficient.

I would like to propose a new proverb. Instead of, “if a man is hungry, teach him how to fish,” let’s modernize it. “If a person is hungry for knowledge, teach them how to YouTube.”

Instead of, “if a man is hungry, teach him how to fish,” let’s modernize it. “If a person is hungry for knowledge, teach them how to YouTube.”

Older employees are tired. At this time, one in three adults isn’t getting the recommended seven hours of sleep a night. Americans are seeking “The Dream” by proving that they’re the busiest and most stressed out. Between work, social life, children, community, and our ever-increasing online lives, we’re all tired.

Harvard Business Review says that 43 percent of people under 45 are “exhausted” while only 35 percent of those over 45 claim the same. The age group with the smallest percentage of people who reported themselves to be exhausted: those over 60.

There’s no denying that work performance is connected to sleep and stress levels. When people are tired and stressed, they’re more likely to make a mistake. Older workers have already raised their family, are more likely to be financially settled in their home and care, and will have more time to focus on work because those external stressors are gone. Someday we’ll all be so well-rested.

Older employees will cost the company more money. I’m not going to argue that insuring an older employee won’t cost a company more money—it will. You have to examine the big picture to fully grasp this one.

Some older employees will be more costly to provide health insurance for, but only some. If older employees are part-time, you don’t have to provide health insurance. If older employees are of retirement age, they get Medicare. Older employees are also less likely to get pregnant and to have new dependents. Overall, you’ll likely have fewer costs associated with insuring your older employees than your younger employees who are starting families.

Even more evidence that older workers won’t cost the company more money: they’re more loyal. Recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is costly. By hiring employees who are already experienced and are less likely to leave for a different job, you can reduce overall cost.

Also, it’s a buyer’s market when hiring older employees. There are a lot of Boomers looking for jobs. (I’m NOT condoning that you pay them less!)

Older people won’t feel comfortable in customer service roles. When we join the workforce and for a majority of our career, our focus is on gaining experience, getting promoted, making more money, and increasing mobility and flexibility. In comparison, older workers are focused on stability, remaining active, being useful, interacting with others, and building community. And as my mom will attest to, older workers tend to be more empathetic and better communicators.

And as my mom will attest to, older workers tend to be more empathetic and better communicators.

The Society for Human Resource Management asked HR professionals what the top advantages of working with older employees were, and they found that experience, maturity and professionalism, and a strong work ethic were factors for over 70 percent.

Young managers don’t know how to manage older employees. This is one myth I don’t know how to debunk. Working intergenerationally can be highly rewarding, but also intimidating. Many young managers aren’t sure how to lead someone who has more experience than they are. There is also the challenge of motivating older workers who might be less motivated by non-traditional techniques and policies.

Discrimination is real, and really misunderstood

Age discrimination in hiring isn’t talked about often, and yet, it’s very common. There are even semi-legal, often unintentional, sly ways that age discrimination comes into play, such as asking what year someone received their degree.

  • Add mature workers to your candidate pool instead of automatically rejecting them.
  • Consider adding part-time roles.
  • Leverage experience and expertise by hiring older workers as consultants, trainers, and mentors for younger, less-experienced employees.
  • Teach job seekers how to learn. Instead of focusing on the skills that older workers don’t have or feeling the need to train them in those skills, teach them how to use existing materials online to learn new skills and find the answers to their questions.
  • Reduce age bias by using AI to choose candidates during the first-round of recruiting.
  • Recognize that older workers have different skills and mentality, and be flexible in how they can benefit your company.
  • Seek out older employees for roles where their skills would be useful. Many older employees are scared to apply for some roles, but there are sites that help them find jobs that are right for them. Use these resources to your benefit.

As with any other type of team diversification, make sure that you’re hiring older workers for their value and how they’ll benefit your company—not just to check off the “age” box on your diversity policy.