By Maryalene LaPonsie
Forget the myth that older workers are outdated and expensive. The best are loyal, competent and may even help a business’s bottom line.
What do you do if you’re a 52-year-old woman looking for a job in an industry dominated by men?
If you’re Patricia Hochkins, you shorten your name to Pat, remove the dates from your résumé and then wow the hiring manager in the interview. Oh, and you get the job, too.
“It’s all about experience,” says Hochkins, now a 68-year-old retiree living in Ellenton, Florida. “That’s the ticket.”
Hochkins worked for decades as a manufacturing systems consultant, overseeing the implementation of new software and business processes for Fortune 100 companies. She was sidelined by health issues that required her to step out of the workforce but says if not for that, she would still be in a job today. She has plenty of experience being the oldest face in the office and is passionate about the value older Americans can bring to the workplace.
Here are five reasons job experts say employers should make hiring workers over age 50 a priority.
1. Older workers have experience.
An obvious benefit of older workers is the experience and skills they bring to a job. “You’ve got someone who can solve your problem today,” says Kerry Hannon, an AARP jobs expert and author of “Getting the Job You Want After 50 For Dummies.”
Hannon, 55, says employers may have legitimate concerns about older workers being behind the curve when it comes to technology, but those skills can be taught. On the other hand, no amount of training can give a younger worker the wisdom gained through 20 or 30 years spent in the field.
2. Older workers have confidence.
Perhaps as a by-product of all that experience, older workers are often more confident than their younger counterparts.
Hochkins says the firm that hired her at age 52 did so after several failed attempts to have younger workers do the same job, a job that required convincing CEOs and executives to get on board with a particular initiative. “They had also hired some 20-somethings, but they weren’t having much luck because they didn’t have the finesse needed to get the job done,” she explains. “Imagine sending a 30-year-old in to Donald Trump to tell him he’s wrong.”
While a few younger workers may be up for that challenge, as Hochkin’s employer found, some positions are best suited for those possessing a mix of confidence and expertise that only age can bring.
3. Older workers provide reliable service.
Blake Nations, CEO of Over50JobBoard.com, says customer service is one area in which mature workers tend to shine. The 59-year-old relates that one woman he helped with recruiting insisted on finding older people to fill customer service positions. “You can count on them,” Nations says. “You can find a maturity in decision-making you don’t find with younger people.”
Other hiring managers agree. In 2014, the Society for Human Resource Management asked HR professionals what they considered the top advantages of older workers. Experience was No. 1 on the list at 77 percent, followed closely by maturity/professionalism and a stronger work ethic – traits chosen by 71 percent and 70 percent, respectively, of 1,913 survey respondents.
As Hannon sums it up, “They actually show up at work on time, and they aren’t texting all day.”
4. Older workers are loyal.
Workers older than age 50 may be more loyal. This may be particularly true for new hires who are grateful for the job.
“In general, older workers love their jobs more than younger ones,” Hannon says. A 2013 study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found 9 in 10 workers older than age 50 are somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs. Meanwhile, according to the 2014 Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey, only 3 in 10 workers younger than age 25 could say the same.
What’s more, younger workers may feel conflicted about how to split their time between work and family. For example, their commitment to finish a big project may be at odds with their commitment to take the kids to sports practice in the evening.
By age 50, many workers no longer have to worry about those divided loyalties. Children are grown, or at least older, which means less time and energy needs to be devoted to home life. “You have more of a laser focus [at work] when you’re not worried about the kids,” Hochkins says.
5. Older workers can save money.
Nations admits older workers can increase some costs for small businesses. For example, health insurance costs may go up, and there may be a need for some short-term technology training. Still, 50-plus workers have the potential to save companies money in the long-run.
An experienced worker can hit the ground running and be effective immediately. They also may have advanced critical-thinking skills that can help them make good decisions quickly. Hochkins notes she saved one company $5 million in inventory costs, and she questions whether a less experienced worker would have been able to identify where changes within the organization could be made.
Older workers can also play a vital role in providing skills to younger people in the workplace. “Older workers are teachers and mentors,” Hannon says. Rather than reinventing the wheel, business would be well advised to bring on people with experience who can share what has been tried in the past and how it can be improved.
For employers looking for the right combination of professionalism and vitality in their new hires, Hochkins says there is a lot to like about 50-something job applicants. “Fifty is the perfect age,” she says. “You still have the energy of your youth, but you have so much experience.”
Job experts like Hannon and Nations hope companies are paying attention. Hiring workers who’ve passed the half-century mark shouldn’t be seen as an act of pity; it should be seen as a strategic move that’s a win-win for employers and employees alike.