Aging in the Workplace

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American workers aged 65-plus are projected to be the fastest growing segment in the workforce through 2024, according to a 2017 study by SeniorLiving.org.

With an unemployment rate just under 4% in West Michigan, these "seasoned" workers constitute a valuable labor pool.

Older employees bring strengths to the workplace. Many contribute a career's worth of connections to their new place of employment, and they forge lasting relationships with new employers.

"In regard to the turnover rate, older workers are 29% less likely to leave their jobs, compared to 49% of workers under the age of 50," said Jennifer Feuerstein, Associate State Director of AARP Michigan, citing a 2015 study conducted by the organization. "The stereotype persists that they're less engaged because they're just biding their time until retirement, but AARP's study found that workers aged 50-plus are more motivated to exceed expectations on the job than their younger counterparts. It refutes assumptions that older workers are inclined to 'check out' after decades of working. In addition, research shows workers' productivity can increase through experience."

Some employers may feel reluctant to bring on more experienced employees, fearing they might be more difficult to manage and mold than a younger employee. Bonnie Nawara, CEO, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW), offers this advice: "Managers and owners can learn from more seasoned employees.

"The younger generation needs to look beyond age and see the value in the seasoned worker."

"Take the time to build the relationship," advised Judy Welch, Executive Director West Michigan, Michigan Women Forward. "Stop and listen. Understand where they're coming from and explain why you are doing things a certain way."

"Get to know your team members," suggested Sandra Gaddy, CEO, Women's Resource Center. "You will gain their respect and will be able to lead without demand. Create a supportive and collaborative atmosphere. Ask questions and remain open minded. Encourage continued professional growth. Remember to not make assumptions or place stereotypes on your team members."

While employers may worry older employees won't be as tech savvy as their younger counterparts, Feuerstein differs. "The truth is, older adults are just as eager to learn as younger counterparts. And the desire to learn and try new things increases as a person ages." AARP's study found that 79% of workers aged 50-plus indicated they would be interested in training related to computer and information technology.

Job Hunting as a 'Seasoned' Worker

"Arm yourself with the qualities that older workers bring to the table. By referencing the research studies that show the qualities older workers offer, you provide an employer with an understanding of the soft skills you possess that don't necessarily translate on a résumé."
—Jennifer Feuerstein, Associate State Director, AARP Michigan

"Use your connections. Use those who are established in the community to help your job search. Emphasize your connections in the community. Someone who has retired and is seeking a new job has more connections than a younger employee."
—Judy Welch, Executive Director West Michigan, Michigan Women Forward

"Market your niche skill set. Be able to articulate your unique abilities. Ask those you work with to help you identify those 'hidden gems' in your skill set so that you can promote yourself effectively. ... Consider how the person you reach out to communicates: If they text, you text. If they email, you email. If they call on the phone, you call on the phone."
—Bonnie Nawara, CEO, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW)

"Show your knowledge of the organization and job for which you are interviewing. Emphasize your experiences while demonstrating growth mindset, characteristics of flexibility, resilience and enthusiasm about the opportunity to learn new skills. Maintain a polished imagine by sharpening technical skills, being mindful of the apparel you choose, and the appearance you project in person and online. Lastly, embrace LinkedIn."
—Sandra Gaddy, CEO, Women's Resource Center

Advantages older workers bring to the workplace, according to AARP’s Business Case Study:

More work experience: 77%

Greater maturity/professionalism: 71%

Stronger work ethic: 70%

Ability to mentor: 63%

Greater reliability: 59%

Greater loyalty: 52%

When she's not writing, sailing or buried in a good book, Jennifer Reynolds teaches at GRCC and Jenison International Academy. Transplanted from the Petoskey area to Holland in 2012, she is a big fan of the latter's farmers market and bike paths. She also enjoys kayaking, yoga, and puttering in her kitchen and garden.

This article originally appeared in West Michigan Woman.

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