That’s why we want to address the fear many companies have of hiring older employees—and show why it is unfounded.
To do so, we will focus on the following topics:
- Who is considered an older worker?
- Five major prejudices against older employees
- How older employees can help your business
- Why older workers are the future
- How to adapt your recruiting strategy
Who is considered an older worker?
Before we look at the reasons for the fear of hiring older employees, let’s first briefly answer the question of which people are actually considered old.
In fact, this can be different from sector to sector. In the marketing industry, people are often considered “old” from the age of 30.
In most cases, however, the age limit is around 50. Meaning, over 50s are the ones who are referred to here as “older employees”. Currently, this is the baby boomer generation, whose members were born between 1946 and 1964.
This is the age group we are focusing on in this article.
Five major prejudices against older employees
Even people over 50 usually have both feet firmly on the ground—and often they have a far better grip on life than most young talents. So where does the fear of many employers come from that prevents them from hiring older employees?
Well, there are certain prejudices that have persisted for a long time and give older employees a bad rep in advance—wrongfully so, as it turns out!
So that you can see what we mean by this, let’s take a look at the well-known prejudices and get to the bottom of them a little more:
Prejudice #1: They are sick more often
It is true that, on average, more sick days occur with age. What is not true, however, is the prejudice that older employees are sick more often than younger ones, as a health report by the German health insurance company BKK proved.
The only thing is that once they are sick, they are just absent for a little longer, as they naturally do not recover as quickly.
As far as the number of sick days among older employees is concerned, however, most employers have to look at themselves.
In most companies, the workload is not managed in an age-appropriate way, meaning that older employees are expected to work the same workloads and hours as their younger colleagues.
With age-appropriate work models and suitable benefits that promote the maintenance of health (prevention) and cover the increased need for a work-life balance, longer-term absences can often be prevented.
Prejudice #2: They work slowly
Another persistent prejudice is that older workers are supposed to work too slowly and are therefore unproductive. In fact, so-called “fluid intelligence”, meaning the ability to process information and react quickly, loses some of its explosive power with age.
But there is a compensation for this: The so-called “crystalline intelligence”, which is the ability to link and relate what they have once learned with the help of their vocabulary, their general knowledge, and their ability to calculate. Or, to put it another way, their experience helps them overcome the reduced learning speed.
Neither the pace of work, nor productivity or creativity, are thus impaired in older employees.
And if the strengths and core competencies of the older employees are taken into account when assigning tasks, there is hardly any difference to the work speed of younger colleagues. Often the older employees are even ahead because they have more routine.
Prejudice #3: They are stubborn, inflexible, and unwilling to learn
Older employees are said to be stubborn, inflexible, and unwilling to learn. They are also said to be resistant to digitalisation and their knowledge is outdated and not compatible with the current zeitgeist. Or in other words: They are not agile or adaptable enough.
However, technology, for example, is by no means a new development for them. Their work processes have already been completely turned upside down once before, when the PC was introduced across the board.
A study by Deloitte shows that today’s over-50s are definitely willing to learn, open to new technologies, and generally more adaptable than one would have thought them to be at first:
96% of 55-74-year-olds own a smartphone, 83% of them use WhatsApp, and an astonishing number of them are also active on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
In addition, another study by Jacobs University Bremen together with Vodafone shows that the willingness to change professionally and personally is significantly higher among older employees than among the 18-35 year old participants in the study.
Prejudice #4: They cost too much
Another common prejudice is that older employees cost too much—be it in terms of sick days (see above), salary, or recruitment. Let’s break down this prejudice by turning briefly to all three factors.
Costs of sick leave
When it comes to sick days, we have already established above that increased sickness absence is a cliché.
This is as true for desk workers as it is for employees in physically demanding jobs, even if some industries have more physical wear and tear or a greater risk of mental illness than others.
How often and for how long older employees are absent from work—and thus also the level of absenteeism costs—can be positively influenced by two factors. On the one hand, by age-friendly workplaces and workloads and, on the other hand, by subsidies that most state governments have in place.
Too high salary expectations
Yes, retirement is more or less imminent. But they still have to pay in for a few more years before they receive pension payments. So understandably, they want to make the most of the less financially strong retirement to come.
It’s also no secret that many large companies have a salary scale based on length of service, which further increases the salary expectations of older workers—according to the motto “more experience costs more”.
The question is, however, which role in which company, which sector, and which region the older employee will take on, as well as how many hours they will work per week.
After all, many over-50s have very different priorities in life (e.g., time with grandchildren, family, or maintaining their health) than young professionals.
That’s why many seek part-time rather than full-time jobs—as well as professional rather than managerial roles—and consciously accept the decline in salary to do so (“downshifting”).
So it is not necessarily the case that their salary aspirations are over-dimensionally high. It’s only important that both sides are transparent and that negotiations are fair.
Finding talent can be very difficult depending on the position and industry and can involve high hiring costs, especially now that the Great Resignation is making its rounds. The more specialised the target group, the higher the recruiting costs can get.
The “good” news, however, is that the baby boomer generation currently makes up an incredibly large part of the population. For example, in Germany it’s almost a third of the population, the majority of whom are still in the workforce and will remain so for some years to come.
This means that the target group of a job advertisement for older employees can be correspondingly large. And their media activities also provide fertile ground for hiring older employees.
In other words, the recruitment costs for older employees can even be lower than for young talent if you publish your job advertisement on the right channels.
JOIN can support you in this. With our innovative Talent Attraction System (TAS) you can create job ads quickly and easily and publish them with just one click on 10+ free job boards, social networks (including Facebook!), and a selection of 100+ premium job boards.
Prejudice #5: They don’t engage
With most of their working life already behind them and soon to retire, it seems obvious at first that they are less engaged with their employer and its mission.
However, a 2014 study by the Institute for Employment Research in Germany clearly showed that 97% of employees over 50 (and thus “older”) were motivated. So this prejudice also couldn’t be confirmed.
And even if the energy in old age is not comparable to that of the youth years, this does not automatically mean that over-50-year-olds are no longer committed to the (ideally common) goal of a company.
The crux here is rather the company culture that determines the daily interaction between younger and older colleagues.
If this is open and trusting, so that an intergenerational exchange is promoted, the motivation and commitment of the employees will extend through all age groups.
Stop age discrimination!
Have you found yourself falling for one or two of these prejudices and (possibly subconsciously) discriminating against older workers? It can happen to the best recruiters.
The good news is that now you know, you can do something about it! Maybe try blind hiring next time. Or, if you want to target older employees, check out our blog article on fair candidate selection 😉.
In the following section, we will show you some more good reasons why you do not want to miss older employees in your company.
How older employees can help your business
Hiring older employees can bring valuable, adaptable skills and knowledge to your team, enriching your business in many ways.
It is these benefits in particular that make over-50s a valuable culture add to your team and can contribute to its innovative strength:
Less competitive thinking in the team
Employees over 50 are generally more self-confident about their position in the company and have experience and influence in communicating expectations.
They are therefore very aware of their status due to their experience. However, this does not mean that they are stuck and don’t let anyone tell them anything. Quite the opposite, in fact! They no longer have to prove themselves and do not have to question their value again and again, as many younger team members often still do.
In other words, this means that they no longer want to climb high up the career ladder, but rather strive to maintain their current position and status.
This in turn causes them to transfer the calm and composure they possess (due to their extensive experience) to the team and to share their knowledge willingly and often even very freely.
The fact that their focus is on appreciative cooperation rather than competition often helps younger team members in particular to recognise their own value and shape their position in the company.
Unlike talents in their 20s and 30s, older employees have usually already had their trial and error phase.
In their 50s, they usually hold exactly the position they consider the right one for them—and are therefore much less likely to change jobs.
This means that they stay longer in the company and are generally much more loyal than the young talents, most of whom are still very idealistic, choosy, and willing to change jobs.
The more pronounced loyalty of older employees can also ensure more consistency in the team and contribute to keeping employee turnover comparatively low.
Higher quality and more sustainable work results
Older workers have particularly valuable experience and technical and methodological knowledge with which they can make a valuable contribution to the success of the company.
In addition, they have a strong awareness of quality and thus have higher expectations of the quality of work results.
Their high level of life experience also enables older employees to use their broad knowledge in a more considered, prudent, and forward-looking way than their younger colleagues.
Especially in urgent problem-solving processes or novel projects, older team members bring in completely new perspectives and help to find a more sustainable solution.
When the methodological knowledge and experience of the older team members are combined with the modern expertise of the younger team members, a completely new innovative power develops with regard to problem-solving and the general approach of a company.
They have worked with many people, experienced many situations, perhaps started a family and raised children, may have travelled extensively, experienced successes and setbacks, and have been through the mill.
In their 50+ years of life, however, they have not only acquired technical and methodological knowledge, but also patience and distinctive social skills. They can read people, quickly recognise their strengths and weaknesses, and know almost intuitively how to “tackle” them.
This is what makes older workers such great teachers, especially for mentoring and developing younger team members. And it is by no means the case that older employees no longer learn anything in the process.
Instead, thanks to these special skills, the corporate culture is supplemented by the “mutual learning” factor—and that is an extremely valuable addition.
Why older workers are the future
Yes, you read that right. It sounds paradoxical, but due to demographic change, this is a truth that we must not lose sight of.
By 2035, the majority of those now over 50 will have retired. The empty chairs they leave behind cannot be filled by new recruits alone, as not enough young talent is coming on board.
Older employees will therefore become an essential part of the workforce in all companies in the future—and should therefore be integrated into your recruitment process sooner rather than later.
Speaking of integration: As mentioned above, fairness, diversity, inclusion, and equality are an integral part of future-oriented recruiting. And why should diversity only be reserved for young people? That doesn’t seem very fair.
So teams that want to call themselves truly diverse in the future are not only mixed in terms of ethnicity, nationality, gender, world-view, and skills, but also in terms of age (“age diversity”).
How to adapt your recruiting strategy
A German study by the Institute for Employment Research revealed that almost all companies that had hired older employees were satisfied with their choice and enjoyed well-integrated, committed, and diligent team members.
So let’s get started: Adjust your recruiting strategy, plan inclusive workshops and joint team events for young and old, and rethink your working models and benefits!
We at JOIN are looking forward to reading job advertisements with the words “Older employees wanted”—maybe also in your company’s job ad?
We have compiled some great places to post these job ads with JOIN in our blog article on the best free job boards for 2022.