Seven Myths About Older Workers

As we head into Labor Day weekend, let’s take a look at a growing trend: the growing number of Americans who are staying on the job beyond the traditional retirement age.

Metal workers cutting a metal objects with circular saws in small workshop.

For decades, the average retirement age was dropping. Most U.S. workers planned to retire at age 65, or even younger. According to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of workers who are older than 65 has risen from 12 percent in the mid-1990s to almost 20 percent today. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College says we saw a 65 percent increase in workers older than 65 just over the past ten years! And with the aging of our population, this percentage is expected to rise.

Yet common misperceptions can stand in the way when a person decides to defer the gold watch past age 65. Here are seven common beliefs that are based on misinformation and ageism rather than on workplace realities:

Myth #1: Most older adults would retire if they could afford to.

It is true that retiring is more of a financial challenge these days. You’ve probably read that fewer seniors have saved enough for a comfortable retirement. Many companies have eliminated traditional pensions, and retirees quickly find that Social Security doesn’t go very far, even if they worked until age 70 to increase their monthly benefit. Add to this our increased longevity, which means our nest egg needs to last longer. But money isn’t the only factor. Many older adults choose to stay on the job because they enjoy their job, and work provides mental stimulation, a context in life, and a social niche.

Myth #2: Older workers take jobs away from younger people if they don’t retire at 65.

There is a stereotype that older workers are “hanging on” to jobs that could go to younger workers. However, statistics suggest that this supposed “generation war” is a misconception. In a recent report, British peer Dr. Ros Altmann explained that having more older workers on the job “is actually associated with both lower unemployment and higher wages for the young.” Explains Altmann, “It is not true that each older worker in a job denies employment to a younger person. This is not how economies work. Keeping more older people in work means increasing their lifetime incomes and they have more money to spend. Conversely, if more older people stop work, they will have lower spending power and ultimately there will be fewer jobs for younger people.”

Myth #3: Older workers aren’t as competent.

Today, more companies realize that older workers bring experience, dependability, judgment and higher productivity to the workplace. They actually take fewer sick days than younger employees. They mentor younger colleagues. In many fields, retiring older workers are leaving a big gap in the workforce! It’s true that older workers might be facing health challenges, such as mobility problems or reduced vision. Making ergonomic adaptations to accommodate these elders also benefits younger workers with disabilities—and helps a business remain ADA-compliant.

Myth #4. It’s not worth it to provide training for older workers, since they are just going to retire soon.

There’s a stereotype that older workers are behind when it comes to technologies. In fact, many older workers were in the vanguard of the technical revolution and have remained up to speed. Others might need training, but in many cases, that’s a minor investment to retain a knowledgeable, competent worker. And consider this: given the pace of technological change, employees of every age need to constantly upgrade their skills—so the older employees among them are likely to still be on the job when any given technology becomes obsolete.

Myth #5: It’s OK to discriminate against older workers.

It is beyond the scope of this article to provide an in-depth look at age discrimination law. But bottom line, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discriminating against older employees during all stages of employment—from hiring to layoffs. And as they consider their policies on diversity and inclusivity, employers should not forget to consider whether they are creating a work environment that’s ageist. That isn’t good for anybody! Negative attitudes about aging actually lead younger workers to neglect their own health. Handy hint: Avoid those “Over the Hill”-themed birthday parties.

Myth #6: Older workers don’t need accommodation for caregiving.

One upside of older employees is that if they had children, those kids are usually grown and living on their own. However, today, the opioid epidemic and other societal factors mean that more grandparents are serving as primary caregivers. More employees of every age are balancing their work with caring for children, grandchildren, as well as aging parents, grandparents and other senior loved ones. Caregiver-friendly policies such as flexible hours, the ability to work from home and an employee assistance program can help these working caregivers tremendously and enable them to be more productive—and loyal—employees.

Myth #7: It’s not cost-effective to hire older workers.

In fact, many companies today are actively recruiting older workers. Some are in their longtime fields, remaining in the same position, or perhaps in a different capacity or part-time. Others decide to begin an “encore career”—a lower-key, more flexible job—everything from consulting to lifeguarding to working in the nonprofit sector. Some may be returning to the workforce after caregiving, needed a short training period to be back up to speed. And here’s an emerging trend: More older adults are choosing professional caregiving as their encore career. Many first provided care for a loved one and found that they enjoy it and are good at it.

Not every older adult is able to continue working. Jobs that require hard manual labor may be too physically taxing, and some elders are unable to work at all due to health problems. But consider that our society benefits when seniors work longer. The more years they’re in the workforce, the more years they pay taxes, the fewer years they collect Social Security, and the more income they can pump into the nation’s economy.

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. Copyright © IlluminAge, 2018