Are older workers the key?

Iain Duncan Smith has been in the news today talking about the need to look within Britain for new talent rather than hiring from outside the country.  It's an argument that is common for any Arsenal fan as a similar line has often been levelled at coach Arsene Wenger, that he too readily looks abroad when there is ample young talent within the country.

This line of thinking fails to take into account all the talent that often leaves an organisation due to the negative perception attached to older employees.  With so much discussion this week surrounding the pension entitlements of public sector workers there has never been a better time to reasess how we value the attributes of our older employees.

I have written several times about the risk faced by organisations due to the mass loss of knowledge and expertise as the Baby Boom generation heads into retirement, and I'll be talking about this very issue in Norfolk later this month.

Peter Capelli from Wharton Business School goes so far as to suggest that older employees are far better than their younger counterparts.  He explains more in this video interview with Forbes.

Capelli believes that "on every measure of job performance older workers do better – they perform better in terms of their jobs, their attendance is better, their interpersonal skills are better, we think that is becoming increasingly important, and they offer employers now sort of a just-in-time work force, particularly those who hit normal typical retirement ages want to work someplace often a little different for a relatively short period of time. They are not looking for retirement benefits, they are not looking to stay on for a long-term career, they want a just-in-time job and that’s what employers want."

10 tips on how to manage older workers

  1. Throw out your assumptions - There are lots of myths about older workers (stubborn, stuck in their ways, slow to adopt new things etc.).  Throw them out of your head and treat people as individuals, not stereotypes.
  2. Treat age ranges accordingly - You would treat a 35 year old differently to a 20 year old employee, so don't expect to treat a 65 year old the same as a 50 year old.  People approaching retirement for instance will have different needs to those of retirement age but still working.
  3. Tell them what you expect - Communication is key.  Tell them what you expect of them and what you're looking to get out of the relationship.
  4. Value what they offer - One thing that older workers have a lot of is experience.  Value this experience and how it can benefit you and your organisation.
  5. Don't ignore their development - Older people need development just as much as younger people, so don't fall into the trap of assuming they are the finished article.
  6. Meet their unique needs - They will have unique needs, so don't assume the same benefits and perks you provide other employees will be valued by them.
  7. What motivates them?  Older workers are motivated by different things to other age ranges.  Our managing an ageing workforce research suggests things like mentoring, flexible working and the social aspects of work are strong motivating factors.
  8. Adapt your leadership style - Whilst older workers may have grown up in an era of hierachial management don't expect them to need reminding who is boss.  They have been around the block enough times to see through such posturing.
  9. Be flexible - Flexible working is a key demand from older workers as they are very aware of the importance of good work/life balance.
  10. Tap into their knowledge - Mentoring is also a key motivation.  Loss of knowledge is a major business continuity issue so make sure all of that knowledge and expertise doesn't leave the organisation.
Find out more in our Managing an Ageing Workforce report.


It's interesting to know that more people suffer age descrimination than any other form, be that race, gender or whatever.

"In a survey for the University of Kent, England, 29% of respondents stated that they had suffered from age discrimination. This is a higher proportion than for gender or racial discrimination."

Interesting.  I wonder if there needs to be more training etc. offered into how you can manage older workers?

This adds to the mix too.

"The world as a whole is being shaped by a demographic megatrend: increasing aging and dependency. To better understand aging and its effects, Booz & Company introduces an approach that we call new demographics."

Adi, this is a very interesting report. I strongly believe there is a major role for older workers. For example mentoring of younger employees. Also potentially in career guidance. It is a huge loss (and a detriment) to society to see people with massive experience out of the workplace in one form or other.

Exactly.  It's a double edged sword I think.  On one hand there is an awful lot of knowledge that could potentially leave your organisation in the coming years.  So it represents a big risk on the one hand, but on the other there is the opportunity to both utilise that knowledge for longer whilst also ensuring it is passed onto younger employees.

Judging by the number of older people that can't afford to retire I dare say a significant number will have to stay employed as long as they can.