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Silver is Gold

Hiring and retaining older adults is good business.

The value of the older worker is clearly evident. In today's workplace, human capital is the most valuable capital a company possesses. With the knowledge and expertise that older workers offer, attracting and retaining mature, experienced employees will be critical to staying competitive.

A study conducted by Towers Perrin for AARP (The Business Case for Workers Age 50+) shows the fifty-and-older worker is essential for companies to meet their workforce needs. The study identified traits exhibited by older workers: experience, loyalty, attention to task, perseverance, motivation, emotional maturity, and engagement—all qualities linked to a company's successful performance. Evidence is both anecdotal and statistical that fifty-and-older workers bring experience, dedication, focus, stability, and enhanced knowledge to their work. While skills such as manual dexterity may decline with age, interpersonal skills, verbal communication, tacit knowledge, and more continue to improve or remain stable until late in life.

According to the study, older workers are more motivated to exceed expectations on the job than their younger counterparts. This finding refutes the age-old myth that older workers are inclined to "check out" after decades of working. Motivation is strongly correlated with engagement—and the more engaged employees are, the more a company will outperform its competition in a range of business and financial measures.

The study also concluded that replacing an experienced worker of any age could cost fifty percent more of the individual's salary in turnover-related costs, and that cost goes up with certain jobs requiring specialized skills, training, or extensive experience. Employers are actually better off avoiding turnover costs that could exceed the incremental pay raises given over the years to a fifty-and-older worker.

The good news in retaining the older adult employee is that most don't plan to retire at the traditional age of sixty-five. Data shows sixty-eight percent of Americans plan to work during their traditional "retirement years." By 2016, one-third of workers will be fifty or older. And the assertion that allowing older workers in the workforce means taking jobs away from younger folks is unequivocally untrue. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest younger generations are missing out on jobs because older workers stay in the workforce longer.

Making room for a growing older population in the workforce will actually strengthen our economy. Americans aged sixty-five and older spend eighty-four to ninety-two percent of their income—a higher proportion than any other age group. They also spend a larger share of the income purchasing goods and services locally—particularly medical services, a staple of Grand Rapids' economy.

While evidence shows the fifty-and-older worker is priceless to the success of a company and an economic engine to the economy, it seems age discrimination in the workplace shouldn't exist. Yet it continues to be a serious issue.

A survey conducted by AARP found almost two-thirds of workers forty-five to seventy-four years old said they've seen or faced age discrimination on the job. What does this age bias look like? Positive performance reviews suddenly turn negative; invitations to meetings are no longer forthcoming; new job demands seem harsh and unreasonable. These are a few of the factors that force older workers out of their jobs.

If a person is pushed out, the impact can be long-lasting. On average, it takes older adults longer to get back to work. Age discrimination in the hiring process is a key reason why unemployed older workers are out of work on average for nearly a year—three months longer than younger workers. Even if an older worker finds another job, it often comes with less money, which can be a financial blow to the person's financial security and retirement nest egg.

Hiring and retaining older adults is good business. It's good for companies, the economy, and every generation in the workplace. And in business, the saying "silver is gold" isn't meant to be cute: It's a fact.

Written by Jennifer Feuerstein, an advocate for the aging community, helping older adults live life to the fullest and equipping them with tools and resources to age well. She is the Associate State Director of AARP Michigan, and lives in Grand Rapids with her three children.


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