There’s a lot of talk about how to employ millennials and keep them engaged - give them wellness benefits, birthdays off, a chance to work according to their values etc. which is cool!
But there’s a faster growing group in the workforce that we also need to focus on - older workers.
Nearly 79% of New Zealanders aged 55 to 64 are employed and this number is on the up. There are increasing numbers of people aged 65+ also still working because of longer lifespans, needing more time to save for retirement or just a desire to keep working.
As a large number of employees are approaching retirement soon, we’re potentially facing a decreased labour supply as the baby boomer generation ages. This group has valuable experience, skills and knowledge that we need to keep in the workforce rather than losing to retirement. HBR says:
“Any employer who wants to engage a skilled, motivated, and disciplined workforce cannot afford to ignore them [older workers].”
A big factor that may jeopardise keeping this group in the workforce is ageism around technology.
The stereotype out there is that older workers aren’t good with tech, particularly in the tech, IT and software industries. Research shows this isn’t necessarily true, as anyone working in these industries have seen a lot of innovation and change in the past 30 years. No matter if someone is 25 or 65, they will have had to adapt to new technology. Other industries such as health, finance and banking have less of an age-bias and are more comfortable with (or seek out) older execs and staff.
However, there is a decent chunk of older workers who aren’t as comfortable with technology. Older workers in the UK and US say they feel pressured to learn new tech-related skills to keep their jobs or have the confidence to apply for new ones.
“Baby Boomers are most affected: 40 percent of older pros in the United Kingdom and 28 percent in the U.S. feel they “don’t have the skills needed to win a new job.” When asked to compare themselves to younger professionals, nearly half of all Baby Boomers felt those younger than them had better tech skills.”
Staying on top of and adapting to new technology is one of the key skills workers need for the future If we have a large chunk of workers who feel they don’t have the tech skills they need, that’s a large chunk of the workforce who need some training. Or some encouragement to go after training.
Employers can encourage training and tech progression for older workers
Training can be thought of as something for younger staff or a box ticking exercise and older employees can miss out on training because managers underestimate their ability to learn new skills. However, employers have a responsibility to offer learning opportunities for all their workers, regardless of age. They also need to promote a culture of learning and encourage staff to take training opportunities.
One expert says the best way to do this is to be honest about what skills are needed for existing staff and when recruiting. And then offer opportunities to develop these skills.
“One of the most important things we all can do is give people clear paths to opportunity and transparency of what skills are needed in the company.”
Training doesn’t have to be official courses or modules either; it could be pairing someone who isn’t tech-savvy up with someone who is to help them learn. Offer a training budget for every staff member, regardless of age, rank or department. Take some time to coach employees who seem to be struggling with technology; they may have a few small frustrations can be easily remedied. It could also be a confidence issue and all it takes is sitting down with them for some non-judgemental help.
Employers can make other adjustments too
Research shows this group has different motivators for working than younger workers. Older workers want to keep working because it keeps them engaged with other people and contributing. Money is often less of a priority. They even share some of the desires of millennials:
“Their big financial needs are typically behind them, work is often a source of social interaction for them, and they care more about the good works that their employer might be doing than the cohorts in middle age.”
Therefore it’s worth implementing work/life balance benefits aimed at older workers, as well as millennials. Role adjustments can be a great way to keep expert knowledge in an organisation.
A great example is a US company who asked an employee with 47 years experience in manufacturing to put off retirement. Not wanting to lose his expertise, the company made a deal he would work for two days a week. He still does some manufacturing but most of his role is passing his skills onto new staff.
“I only work two days a week, and I wanted to do something after I retired and it was just a no-brainer to stay. It's not about the money. I enjoy the work."
Research shows getting multiple generations to work together can lead to more creativity and innovation - so it’s a win for everyone.
Here in NZ we have Seniors@Work doing some great mahi to change perceptions and keep more aged workforce engaged. What about you though, what does your organisation do to engage the aging generation? Have you had assumptions made about your tech-savvy because of your age?