One of the key barriers facing mature-age workers looking to find a job or transition into a new career is the prevalence of myths and negative stereotypes about older people and work.
Myth 1: Mature-age workers can’t do tech
There seems to be plenty of evidence to the contrary. Some research suggests that people 50 and older are using smart phones, wearables, home assistants/smart speakers and smart home technology at a similar rate to those 18 to 49. Seventy per cent of people 50+ are using internet searches everyday while 40 per cent are using Facebook everyday including 20 percent who are in their 80s! A high proportion of mature-age people indicate that they are confident using new technology.
As one blogger writes: “Deciding older workers simply can’t or won’t learn new technology is like assuming the car is defective because you’re in the wrong gear”.
Myth 2: Older workers are less committed than younger workers
Mature-age workers are 2.6 times less likely to change jobs than their younger peers. Those who experience the workplace as age-inclusive are even more likely to feel engaged in their work and a sense of psychological well-being. Most mature workers are less driven by financial need than by the opportunity work gives them for enjoyment, a sense of purpose and to remain active contributors.
Myth 3: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
This myth has a relationship to Myth 1 but is equally nonsensical. Learning occurs across the life course. In fact, the internet offers us more opportunities to learn than ever before. Take for example the success of older entrepreneurs who are more likely to be successful than their younger peers. Research suggests learning agility is not related to age, rather it is your attitude that matters most.
Myth 4: Older workers are less productive
A variety of studies indicate that productivity actually increases with age. Interestingly, mixed age teams are most productive of all, which is a good reason to have an age diverse workforce. There is also a positive relationship between age diverse teams and performance especially in relation to complex decision making.
Myth 5: Older workers want more money
While there might be an expectation of higher salaries due to the experience and skills of some older workers this should not be an immediate assumption. Many older workers are looking for greater flexibility and are willing to take lower salaries to achieve it. Older workers looking to transition to new careers understand that the necessity to develop new skills means they will likely have to opt for a lower salary. At the same time, the evidence suggests mature workers deliver a net benefit to their employer compared to the rest of the workforce through increased retention, lower rates of absenteeism, decreased costs of recruitment and greater investment returns on training.
Myth 6: Older workers are winding down towards retirement
Mature-age workers are actually challenging the idea that there is a specific age for retirement and many expect to work past traditional retirement age. The value of work in terms of social engagement, a sense of purpose and ability to give back are increasingly accepted by people 50 plus. As longevity increases, people in their 60s can look forward to another 15 or more years of productive life which puts a whole new slant on traditional ideas of a specific retirement age.
Myth 7: Mature-age workers don’t want to work for younger managers
There is no doubt that as older workers increasingly find themselves working for younger managers the relationship can be ‘awkward’. A lot depends on how well managers value the work of older workers and resist stereotypes. Increasingly, organisations are seeing the value of reverse mentoring where younger workers can learn from the experience and institutional knowledge of older workers while mature workers can gain a better understanding of the dramatically changing technology landscape from their younger colleagues.
Myth 8: The skills of older workers are outdated
The research suggests that the cognitive diversity that comes from a mixed age workforce is important to problem solving and innovation. At the same time, there is a huge and growing mature-age consumer cohort with significant buying power. No-one understands this demographic better than older workers themselves. Along with these advantages, older workers often have well developed networks, decades of employment experience and transferable (or soft) skills developed over long careers, which cannot be underestimated as we move towards more soft skill intensive jobs.
Myth 9: Mature-age workers don’t like change
Research suggests it is Millennials who are less predisposed to change. Older workers are generally more adaptable, possibly as a result of their greater life experience. Research undertaken by The ARC Centre for Excellence in Population and Ageing Research, shows that mature workers are more agile than they are given credit for with a high proportion of those 55 and over indicating they cope well with changes to their core tasks.
Myth 10: There is no point training older workers because they are going to retire soon anyway.
Older workers are just as interested in learning new skills as younger workers. One study indicates that 8 in 10 workers aged 45 to 64 believe that learning a new skill is an essential part of their ideal job, and 7 in 10 that training and development opportunities are equally important to them.
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