Combating Ageism in the Workforce: The Benefits of Hiring Older Employees
The workforce is aging at a rapid rate – 25% of workers in the U.S. and the U.K. are expected to be over the age of 55 by 2025, per Deloitte’s latest future workforce trends report.
Despite this trend, ageism is still a problem across industries, according to Hiscox’s Ageism In The Workplace Study – 44% of employees report that they or someone they know has experienced age discrimination in the workplace. And, of the 10,000 companies surveyed by the Harvard Business Review and Deloitte, over two thirds view older workers as a competitive disadvantage in their respective markets due to potential obstacles, such as lack of technological skills or being “set in their ways.”
However, these companies are likely missing out on knowledgeable, experienced and committed employees by putting “older” candidates’ resumes in the shredder just because of their age.
This certainly isn’t to say that reverse ageism is appropriate, either. Young professionals often are eager to learn, bring a fresh perspective and have an affinity for technology that can propel your business forward. However, by building a diverse workforce spanning multiple generations, you’re able to benefit from a well-rounded team, which, in turn, could give your business the edge to grow and move forward at a faster pace. After all, companies are 36% more likely to see returns when they invest in a diverse team, per a McKinsey and Company study.
In my experience building a diverse team at Dowdle Construction Group – one that consists of not only gender and ethnic diversity but also age – I have noticed our older team members come with some undeniable benefits:
1. They bring extensive experience and a variety of perspectives.
You hear a lot about the benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace – how it’s important for company culture and innovation and is appealing to different sets of clientele, to name a few. However, age is a factor of diversity that often gets overlooked.
Employees who are veterans in the workforce can offer years of life and business experience. They’ve been through an era or two (or three) of working culture, and they’re likely to have worked with multiple generations of workers. This means they generally have a deeper understanding of how to work with different personalities in varying age groups. They may also have different ideas on how to accomplish a project, win business or solve problems – all of which are important aspects of a diverse team.
Or they may know a certain business or skill set inside and out. Dowdle Senior Superintendent David Stiles is a prime example of this. We are working on renovating an old lumber mill into a retail and office marketplace, and there are challenges to historical projects that you’re never going to find in new construction. The methods, materials and technology that were used in 1950 often don’t compare to those used today.
This is a sizable project for Dowdle, and to make the building meet current building methods and codes, we needed a seasoned project superintendent. David has been in the business for 50 years and has the knowledge and experience to handle something like this. Often a more “senior” employee is the one that has this level of knowledge, and we’d be remiss to try to fill the position with someone less experienced.
2. They are great leaders and mentors to younger employees.
With experience comes the ability not only to take ownership of projects but also the opportunity to share one’s long-gathered knowledge with others on the team.
Mentoring is shown to have a positive impact on employees of all ages and levels within the company. A CNBC/SurveyMonkey study found that 91% of respondents who had a mentor were reportedly happy with their job, and the retention rate for mentees was 79%, compared to 40% for those without a mentor. Similarly, mentors in the same study experienced a 69% retention rate.
Our Director of Pre-Construction Terry Mulliniks re-entered the workforce after retiring for about a year and a half. He brought with him over five decades of experience in the construction industry. We were working on a difficult aspect of a project when Terry came up with a completely out-of-the-box solution that even the structural engineer hadn’t thought of. He continues to impress and guide our team with his experience and innovative solutions.
It’s managers like him that are so important to have in a company. He demonstrates every day how to be a creative and kind leader – a value we hold very dearly – and our more junior-level employees are lucky for the opportunity to learn from him.
3. They are extremely loyal and dedicated.
Perhaps this is partly a generational attribute. When I was first starting out in the mid- to late-20th century, it was pretty common to leave college, get a job and stick with it for much, if not all, of your career. That trend has now shifted, and it’s become more normal to jump around from job to job, and even industry to industry, especially for the younger generations.
In fact, the median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 (10.1 years) was more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 (2.8 years), per the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent tenure figures.
In my experience, those with many years in an industry know that a great job should never be taken for granted. They tend to be the ones who stick it out, even when times are tough.
For example, when Dowdle merged with another company, we moved to our new partner’s offices, where they planned to keep all of their existing office staff. The result was that our long-time accounting manager, Peggy Reed, was going to lose her job. Despite this, she stayed on and did the payroll to make sure the transition would go as smoothly as possible, commenting that she respected us too much to leave us in a lurch. Naturally, when we split with this other company in 2012, we hired her back immediately. The good news is that her loyalty has not faded, and we are grateful for her commitment.
It’s stories like these that confirm what the research is saying: that age shouldn’t matter in the search for wonderful, enthusiastic and energetic folks for your team. Those who have been in the working world for decades tend to bring with them so much wisdom, dedication and leadership. I urge you to consider the older candidates with equal weight to the younger ones because I think that combination is the best one to lead you into the future.
This op-ed was originally published in the Tennessean on Sept. 9, 2020. You can read it here. It was also picked up by the Jackson Sun, Commercial Appeal and Knoxville News-Sentinel.