The Gray Wave: Why Companies Refuse to Hire Older Workers

by Tim Sackett | Posted | Talent Acquisition

The Gray Wave: Why Companies Refuse to Hire Older Workers

Never in history has our workforce been older. According the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 22.2 percent of the workforce is 55 years old and over, and rising every month for the foreseeable future. Of course we all know this is because of the Baby Boom generation. The peak birth year of the baby boom was 1957. The boomers, no longer babies, reached age 55 in 2012.

Let’s do some simple math. 2012 the peak of boomers reached 55. Assuming the majority will work until at least 65, the number of older workers in our workforce will continue to increase until 2022, or another 8 years at minimum! Some companies have been preparing for the coming surge to ensure their talent pipeline is strong and healthy.

Balancing the diversity of your workforce

Older workers are finding it almost impossible to retire at 65 and we are easily seeing workers continue in their careers to 70 years old and beyond. This trend alone has seen a fairly significant shift in demographics across most industries within the past few years. Here’s the big problem: Companies and hiring managers want 24-34 year olds, not 55-65 year olds. We have a bias that looks like this:

Younger workers are better because:

  • They have more energy.
  • They’re more tech savvy.
  • They’re more willing to give discretionary effort.
  • They’ll work for us for the next 30 years.
  • They have less health problems.

If you are currently saying to yourself that you don’t believe this, you are one of the main problems and you’re lying to yourself!

The reality is younger workers have just as many problems as older workers. They’re just different problems.  

Older workers are better because:

  • They don’t have kids pulling them constantly off their game (Uh oh! Parent bias!)
  • While possibly not as tech savvy, they have experience in getting things done in different ways and they won’t panic when the internet goes down for 15 minutes.
  • They grew up in a time when work life balance meant you worked until the job was done.
  • They’re willing to by loyal to you for the next 7-10 years, which is more loyalty than you’ll get from anyone else you hire.
  • We all miss work for stuff. Older workers statistically don’t miss work more than younger workers.

We are quickly moving into a candidate driven marketplace in almost every job category, except general labor. Even then, employers would argue it is still next to impossible to find general labor that is reliable and productive. Talent acquisition owes it to organizations to help hiring managers, and ourselves, to get over our bias of hiring older workers. 

Changing the perspective on older workers

One of the main issues hiring managers face in hiring older workers is the fact the person they are hiring probably has more experience than they do. Most won’t admit this, but this can be an intimidating factor.

They make up excuses of why this older worker wouldn’t want the job. “Oh, why would he want to work for me, he’s done my job for 20 years! He’s just going to cause problems and not want to do it my way.” We have to help our hiring managers understand that ‘over qualified’ isn’t a viable reason not to hire.

If hiring aging workers is not a strategy your company currently has - you could be missing out on a huge opportunity to separate your organization from a talent perspective. Many talent acquisition pros and organizations will fail at overcoming this bias and you have an opportunity at taking advantage of this. There is one giant talent pool that is growing in the world and it’s not 24-34 year olds!

Your Turn: What can organizations do to help hiring managers overcome their fear of hiring older employees?

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