Career Corner: Aging in the workplace
With Malaika Edwards
Recently I’ve heard several discussions (…or rather complaints) about older employees in the workplace. Some of these ‘complaints’ are that older persons take jobs from younger employees, some persons complain about the way older people do their jobs, and others believe that once employees have reached a certain age, they should retire and “go home.”
I am actually a big supporter of older persons in the workplace however- I believe there a lot of benefits in having multi-generational workplaces, and I don’t think that people should exit the workforce just because they’ve reached a certain age. Instead, I see great value in having older persons in the office, and I hope that highlighting some of these benefits can help to change the mindsets of those who don’t support aging in the workplace:
Years of Experience: the fact is that if you have been working for a significant number of years you will have more experience than a younger counterpart. In several instances this is a good thing. Years of experience means older persons have detailed knowledge about the business and the industry you operate in and can use this experience to help the organization meet its overall objectives.
Training: Training is a big advantage of having older employees in the workplace - after working for several years, older employees have a lot that they can teach their younger colleagues…a big advantage is that they can conduct training on-the-job. This saves time and money so employees don’t need to leave the office to be trained outside. Another big plus, is that younger employees can also train older workers (usually where things like technology and social media is concerned).
Mentorship: If there are older persons in your workplace, they can serve as mentors who can help steer younger colleagues in the right direction and can use knowledge from their own experience to help with making major decisions as younger persons navigate their own careers. Of note, mentorship goes both ways…having older persons in the workplace allows for reverse mentoring, where younger persons can teach their older colleagues things that are more related to their own age group that older persons may not necessarily be familiar with.
Dedication: Older persons tend to be very focused on getting the job done and are less focused on things like climbing the corporate ladder. This is yet another advantage as they are committed to the task at hand and their focus is working on projects they are involved in, rather than getting involved in organizational politics and things that can distract them from their job.
Mistakes: Particularly in certain industries, mistakes on the job can be detrimental to all concerned. Older persons however are less likely to make blunders and mistakes…years of experience, maturity and a more detailed understanding of the job minimizes the chances of mistakes that are more often associated with younger colleagues.
Networks: In several instances, older persons have built up a network of colleagues and clients over the years. For the organization this is good as a wider client base can provide opportunities for the business. Older employees can also use their network to provide resources to younger colleagues, if and when they decide to explore opportunities in areas outside of the organization.
Having older employees in the workplace has its pros and cons- more so than other groups of workers however, the drawbacks of the aging workforce tends to be an area of focus that is often highlighted. Nevertheless, what is of utmost importance, is that the right persons are in jobs who can function effectively, and who will work with colleagues to meet the needs of the business. If the right person happens to be an older employee, I encourage you to embrace the diversity, learn from your older counterparts and capitalize on the benefits that come from having older employees in the workplace.
Malaika T. Edwards is a Human Resources consultant and provides advisory services to individuals and business clients. She is also a PhD candidate at the Louisiana State University (LSU) where she specializes in Human Resources and Workforce Development. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/malaika-edwards