Over time, the workforce has changed for people of all ages. With each new economic influx, technological advance, and shift in societal values, we have learned how to adapt.
Surprisingly, through all of this, there is little change in how we picture the older worker.
The myth of the unproductive and costly older worker continues to be a barrier for many job seekers in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond. But, are any of the stereotypes really true?
As it turns out, there is a lot of research on older workers’ attitudes, productivity, and ability. The data looks at many different variables, but all comes to the same conclusion – virtually all of the stereotypes about the older workers do not hold up to reality.
Because people are working later in life, workforce solutions for older workers are needed. The infographic below shows 7 myths about older workers and 7 facts that prove them wrong.
7 Myths About Older Workers (and 7 Facts That Prove Them Wrong)
Myth 1: Older workers are less capable of solving problems.
Reality: Older workers have proven to be strong problem solvers.
The 2010 Cogito Study was a large international research effort to determine whether some negative stereotypes about older workers were true. The study compared 101 young adults age 20-31 to 103 older adults age 65-80 on 12 different tasks over 100 days.
It revealed that older workers’ performance was more consistent over time than younger workers, making them better at solving problems. Older workers use their wealth of experience to create effective problem-solving strategies. They tend to be more capable, make better decisions, and take fewer uncalculated risks.
Myth 2: Older workers cost more.
Reality: Older workers often cost less than their younger coworkers.
One of the highest costs to an employer is recruitment. High employee turnover causes an employer to need to continuously recruit, higher, and train new employees. Because older workers tend to have lower turnover rates, they cost their employers less in recruitment.
Research shows that workers over 50 years old are 5 times less likely to change jobs compared to people 20-24. An older employee won’t jump ship soon after being hired, saving their employer time and money.
Myth 3: Older workers call off sick a lot.
Reality: Older workers don’t often miss work due to illness.
Older workers tend to call off less because they are sick than younger workers. The insurance firm RIAS reported that older workers are half as likely to take a sick day compared to younger workers. Only a quarter of workers over 50 years old took time off due to illness in 2014. That same year, almost half of those age 20-30 took sick time off.
Myth 4: Older workers have poor memories.
Reality: Age is not directly linked to memory.
While the natural process of aging can make a person more susceptible to memory loss, aging alone is not the culprit. Factors including poor nutrition, poor health, and depression are linked to affecting memory but are not the only causes.
Myth 5: Older workers have trouble learning new things.
Reality: Older workers retain information longer and have higher training rates than younger workers.
They also have higher motivation and good attention spans. Older workers are eager to learn new tools for today’s economic needs. Their level of experience gives them an extra edge because it’s easier to build off the foundation of an understanding than to start new.
Myth 6: Older workers are just waiting for retirement or Social Security – they don’t care about their careers.
Reality: People are working longer, and they’re focused on more than just a paycheck.
Older workers care about their jobs. They report to having more meaningful work than their younger coworkers and are interested in progressing in their careers, taking on challenges, and learning new skills.
Older workers are motivated by causes like community, mission, and a chance to make the world better. On the other hand, younger workers tend to be motivated by outcomes that benefit themselves, such as salary and position.
Myth 7: Older workers are not up to date on technology.
Reality: Older individuals are one of the largest groups of tech users.
Studies show that older workers are just as tech-savvy as younger workers. Technology employees over 55 are less stressed about using technology in the workplace and better at using multiple devices, according to a Dropbox survey.
Only 13% of respondents 55 and older reported having trouble using multiple devices, compared to 37% of 18-34 year olds. And, people 55 and older used 4.9 forms of technology per week, compared to the overall average of 4.7.
Changing viewpoints about older workers
Research shows that older workers do not live up to the negative stereotypes associated with entering or continuing in the labor market later in life. It’s dangerous to assume that the myths are true for older adults, employers, and our entire community.
By ignoring all of the positive attributes older workers bring to the table, we miss out on opportunities for a stronger and more sustainable economy. They offer persistence, an eagerness to learn, and an ability to work with others unique to their generations.
Time and time again, we overlook the value of experience. But, experience is one of our greatest assets. By hiring qualified older workers, employers gain a force in the labor market that has yet to be shaken, despite myths about aging in the workforce.
Interested in hiring an older worker? Host a Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) participant at your government agency or nonprofit. Provide on-the-job training to someone 55 or older so that they can reenter the workforce and maintain financial independence.
For-profit employer? Find other opportunities for hiring older workers with our staffing network geared towards matching older adults with Encore Career opportunities .