In the world and in the workforce, the times they are a-changin.’ Fast. And nobody knows this better than jobseekers 50 and older. Whether they’re looking to make a career or job change, have been laid off after years at the same company, or are re-entering the workforce after a period of time off to raise children, older workers should not be dismissed. In fact, they should not only be valued but sought after by employers. Age bias is a real phenomenon, but smart employers know that, when it comes to qualified candidates, age often is really just a number.
Today’s “older” workers are much different than the older workers of the 1980s, many of whom were born before or during the Great Depression. For instance, a 50-year-old man in 1980 may have been with one company for the duration of his career, while a 50-year-old woman was likely to have married in her 20s and spent years (or decades) as a housewife and stay-at-home mom, either permanently or before venturing into the workplace – and then, it was most likely for a part-time service or clerical position.
In 2019, mature workers, including Boomers and Gen-Xers, bring a wealth of professional experience, knowledge, skills (including soft skills), and other essential qualities to the workplace. Women who came of age listening to Joan Baez or Madonna exercised the gamut of professional options, engaging in significant and diverse careers before, during, and after raising families – if, indeed, they chose to have children. And this is just the beginning of where “generation” (as opposed to simply “age”) comes into play.
Today’s older workers aren’t the same as yesterday’s older workers. That VP candidate age 50 or 60 grew up watching the Watergate hearings and MTV, not listening to Depression-era radio broadcasts like Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats and The Shadow. They are savvy professionals with a balance of creative optimism and wary cynicism born of that time, as well as the natural wisdom as a result of experience.
Here are a few more essential qualities mature workers bring to the workplace that are worth their weight in gold.
- Focus. Boomers and Gen-Xers grew up in an era when prolonged focus, concentration, attention – and comprehension – were required to complete many tasks that today can be done with a couple of mouse clicks or keystrokes. The advent of the Internet, then Google, then smartphones and social media have reduced the length of our attention spans. Apps and tools for checking spelling, grammar, and facts have taken the place of critical thinking and problem-solving. Employees over 50 spent years learning to pay attention to minutiae for extended periods, which means they can handle complex projects without getting bored, confused, or antsy – at least not as quickly as their Millennial counterparts.
- Versatility. Today’s older employees are old enough to remember what day-to-day life was like before tech but are young enough to have been immersed in and become skilled at using 21st-century technology. Unlike those a generation or two older, who may have found it hard to adapt to a high-tech world, those who grew up in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s were exposed gradually over a period of years and adapted naturally and easily. Those same people, though, are likely to remember when changing a paragraph of copy meant starting over and retyping an entire page. If needed, they could do many things the “old school” way.
- Patience. Most mature workers who’ve spent years in the workforce are well aware that patience is a virtue. From “waiting by the phone” for important calls to submitting resumes by mail and waiting for a response to standing in line at the bank to cash paychecks, older employees have dealt with frustration, have waited their turn, have likely learned to handle difficult customers and clients, and are often adept at the many tasks and positions that require a patient, calm demeanor.
- Resilience. Older workers have seen more of the world, both good and bad – and this is a product of chronological age. They’ve dealt with more ups and downs, more adversity, and have emerged on the other side. They’re less likely to get flustered or stressed in high-stress situations or crises.
- Knowledge. Because they’ve seen and done more and lived longer, mature workers generally tend to know more. The knowledge they’ve acquired can be invaluable to everyone in the workplace, as well as to clients and customers. Today’s employees value a workplace that offers a culture of learning, and an experienced, knowledgeable, older worker can be, among other things, an excellent leader, teacher or mentor.
- Community-minded. It may seem an old-fashioned virtue, and, indeed, it is one borrowed from an earlier generation, but this generation prizes service, collaboration, and longevity. They are looking for a place to make a difference and even make a professional home. This “can do” attitude can have a positive effect on the satisfaction, performance, and retention of staff, young and old.
So, before you assume that the 50- or 60-something applicant is “too old,” consider these valuable qualities. Are they too focused, too versatile, too patient, too resilient, too knowledgeable, and too community-focused? What impact could this mature new hire make in terms of creative output and collaboration? Consider that diversity in age – as well as gender and culture – fosters a healthier and more stable workforce, because of the balance of varied qualities, skills, perspective and lifestyle needs. There’s an old adage: “Beauty is only skin deep.” Value goes a whole lot deeper.
Penelope Brackett is the Practice Development Manager at RiseSmart.