Older adults offer leadership and experience, yet are often overlooked in the hiring process with HR instead focusing on millennials. That's according to Ben Eatwell, CMO at Weploy.
Eatwell added that this is often out of a desire to “nurture the next generation of talent”, but also the satisfaction out of having a major impact on these younger minds.
“What is surprising is how early on in your career age bias starts to become a factor - research shows it can harm your job chances with ‘hireability’ decreasing 8% each year after the age of 35,” he said.
“That’s quite a long way from retirement! We know diversity positively impacts innovation, culture and profits, but often age diversity has less focus.”
Eatwell said there are many advantages to employing older adults, particularly in positions where experience and leadership are needed. However, this doesn’t seem to be translating into more opportunities for older Australians.
“I think this has to do with trying to fit workers into traditional organisational structures – by exploring more agile, networked and outcome-oriented structures it can not only improve diversity but also productivity.”
Eatwell offers a few tips for HR professionals who want to boost the number of older Australians amongst their staff.
The starting point should always be a “thorough assessment of the recruitment process” to identify and mitigate where age discrimination could arise.
“One of the key traits we assess is learning agility – in a nutshell, the ability to pick new ideas up quickly,” he said.
“Research suggests that although you can make small improvements to your learning agility, it is more or less fixed and is not dependent on age.”
Consequently, choosing candidates based on learning agility can help add some objectivity to the hiring process.
From there it’s about developing a culture of lifelong learning. Mature employees have a huge amount of experience to share which can be “leveraged to increase overall productivity and morale”.
“Also I’ve seen reverse mentoring work very well, reducing knowledge gaps with both younger and more mature workers, as well as improving organisational culture.”
So what is lost by having nobody senior around?
“Often it’s the times of crisis when calm is needed, or when team morale is affected by a failed project, that age diverse workforces show critical value,” said Eatwell.
“We do a lot of ‘learning by doing’ and that includes what to do when things do not go according to plan.”
Eatwell added that leadership is a quality that is not tied to age, but the “reassurance of someone who has seen a crisis and worked through it to tell the tale” can be invaluable in making sure the right work gets done in these high-pressure moments.
Sometimes, the only senior person on a project is the boss, and employees are reluctant to confess an error that can lead to disaster if unaddressed, he added.
“Having a senior member of the workforce who can act as that neutral-confidant, and know what to do with the information, has considerable value.”
Employees from diverse ages have different experiences, perceptions and approaches when it comes to things like problem-solving, decision making and task handling, he said.
“They can also use various strategies – starting from the way they think, plan and execute tasks, which can influence operations in a more subtle, but still valuable way.”
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