The value of the mature worker.
It’s been said that getting old is not for sissies. The body slows down, your health deteriorates and, like it or not, you start saying things like “the kids of today…” and “when I was young…”. Not that any of this affects me, of course, because I am not old. Or so I thought.
I was recently told that I am the second oldest person working for VentureWeb, the marketing services business I consult to. Second oldest! I am not yet 50. That sounded astounding to me and yet, when looking around me, I quickly realised that it was true – although I prefer to frame it as “the 567th youngest.” According to research that I quickly undertook in the hopes of proving that I was not, in fact, old, “older workers” are categorised as 45 years and older (and, by the way, they comprise 37% of the US labour workforce). Most of the data available is US focused but the trend is consistent throughout the world.
Despite the fuss being made of the millennial generation sweeping into the workplace in large numbers and overtaking the numbers of Generation Xers – the reality is actually very different. In 1994 the average age of US employees was 37.7 years, in 2014 it had climbed to 41.9 years and in 2024 it is expected to be 42.4 years. What are some of the reasons for this? People are staying in school for longer and studying more, resulting in them entering the labour market at a later stage. Older people are retiring later – 55 is no longer seen as retirement age and, in fact, 62 seems to be the average retirement age. Additionally despite people being of working age, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are working a traditional job, some are choosing volunteering or other options.
Despite the perception that we live in a world dominated by the youth, my more mature peers and I are far from our sell-by date. In fact, smart employers realise that there are many advantages to having older employees in the workplace, and it goes far beyond mere experience.
High levels of engagement
Talking from my own experiences, I think that I’ve always been an engaged employee. I’ve been lucky enough to always (or most days!) love what I do in the environments I have worked in. But I’ve also always had other distractions; the pull of a young family, school lifts and functions, sick children etc. Now with those days behind me, I have the ability to be completely engaged in my working experience, probably for the first time ever, and that feels exciting.
Open to knowing what they don’t know
I think that this is true of all generations today but I find it refreshing when older people are honest about what they don’t know and open to learning new tricks. Business wisdom and experience does count for something but I am currently working closely with a younger marketer who speaks a language I honestly don’t understand! What is refreshing is how we can learn from each other and be open about what we don’t know but are keen to learn. Don’t we all want to be on a continual learning journey? I know I do.
Strong interpersonal skills
Older people learned to communicate before text messaging and social media and so generally have good interpersonal and communication skills! We have the ability to ask questions and forge relationships in an “in the room” setting which, when coupled with the advancements in technology today, can be significant. In most cases, we are comfortable sharing our perspectives with management too – and can provide some different thinking on a situation.
Operate as mentors and role models
Often, for no other reason than I’ve been there and done that, I will volunteer insights and learnings, and I think younger managers appreciate my response or input to a situation. I have confidence in my ability to share expertise and understand how a scenario could play out. This confidence is gained through my own mistakes and experiences gained through years of practice.
Provide sense of loyalty
Today’s workplace has changed and older people are often grateful for the opportunity to have a job which provides them with challenge and motivation. This results in a committed and loyal contributor to your business. We don’t always think that the grass is greener on the other side!
It’s natural for any business to want a workforce brimming with the innovation, enthusiasm and new ideas which a younger generation often provide. But energy and innovation is not the sole domain of the young, and there are many other valued contributions that an older worker can bring to your business.
Nikki Benfield is the Global Lead: Business Development at VentureWeb (and also, the second oldest person).