A decade ago, Mark Zuckerberg stood up at a Y Combinator Startup School event at Stanford and boldly told the crowd, “young people are smarter.” He was hoping to stress the importance of “being young and technical, and that successful start-ups should only employ young people with technical expertise, according to a CNET report. Zuckerberg made news headlines for his rash comments, and rightfully so. His statements contradict many anti-discrimination laws—and discredit the skills that seasoned, experienced workers bring to a company.
Zuckerberg’s statements hinged on one of Facebook’s founding advantages: expertise in the art of building. While wrongly—and discriminatorily—stated, he was on the hunt for technical expertise and skilled workers who could fully own their function. Whether ten years ago or today, highly skilled workers have never gone out of style. In fact, Forbes recently reported that “hiring older workers is suddenly in season.” The trend is not surprising, considering the value experience can bring to a company. What is surprising is that hiring experienced workers is considered a new trend.
To understand how experience went out of style, Jack Kelly of the Compliance Search group shared his perception via LinkedIn: “The perception is that young college graduates will be eager, enthusiastic, motivated, work hard, not talk back, are proficient in new and emerging technology, and do as they are told….Whereas, experienced – old – employees have the annoying habits of having wisdom, experience, and accumulated knowledge, and are apt to share it with everyone.” Unfortunately, according to Kelly, these positive traits are viewed as being “difficult to work with.” But by stifling all this experience, aren’t we missing out on diverse mindshare and a wealth of historical and informative knowledge?
Fortunately, the tables are beginning to turn as employers realize that hiring experienced employees makes good business sense — discrimination laws aside. According to one study, workforce returnees cost 25% less than hiring comparable workers who currently hold jobs, not to mention the benefit of employees with highly developed leadership skills, a strong work ethic, authentic loyalty, and even more motivation to stick around and work hard.
If you’re thinking your organization would benefit from more experience among your workforce, here are a few big ideas for hiring and retaining experienced workers.
Cut out the ageism
Ageism, a type of discrimination, is still happening across many areas of the employee experience, regardless of employment laws designed to prevent it. The New York Times and ProPublica recently published the results of an investigation that revealed how Verizon, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Target, and Facebook have leveraged targeted ads to recruit people who fit strict age parameters These organizations, along with countless others, have placed targeted recruitment ads that are limited to particular age groups, thereby eliminating the availability of job postings to older, more experienced individuals looking for employment. The article showcased one example of a Facebook ad targeted to the millennial generation that used a smiling, young woman and was only seen by 26 to 35 year olds. According to Debra Katz, a Washington employment lawyer who represents victims of discrimination, these types of recruitment tactics are “blatantly unlawful.”
It’s time to cut ageism out of the recruitment process, along with other exclusionary practices. Part of this shift may require a change in attitudes. Instead of looking at older workers as out of date, recognize the value their industry knowledge and business perspectives can bring to any organization.
The more your company culture embraces diversity and inclusion of all employees, the less likely ageism will become a cause of legal action or create a need for cultural change. Hiring panels, for example, should be comprised of a variety of employees with different levels of experience and varying backgrounds. When screening resumes, don’t worry as much about the date of graduation, as the wealth of relevant experience and skills of job applicants.
Keep experienced workers engaged
Tribes long ago recognized the wisdom of the elders and elevated them to positions of power and esteem within the group. In recent years, some organizations have forgotten to use the acumen of their mature workforce, to their detriment. Researchers at the University of South Australia and the University of Melbourne, found that ignored workers between ages 45 and 75 were less energized by their jobs, and had 20% lower engagement levels than those in welcoming and helpful environments. Moreover, the study found that “workers who are unhappy near the tail end of their careers are more likely to hang onto their jobs rather than look for a new one (which probably would be difficult to find),” according to Forbes.
Even beyond impacting engagement, retention, and employee happiness, ignoring certain minority groups within your workforce can have profound ripple effects on a company culture. When employees feel like their opinions and contributions don’t matter, they will cease to be inspired and motivated to continue contributing at their greatest capacity. In the meantime, companies are losing out on a wealth of ideas and contributions from people who have been around long enough to have experienced the ups and downs of business and may have some ideas to make the organization more successful.
Learn what motivates employees of all ages
It’s important to understand what motivates all employees, older workers included. This concept of “understanding your workforce” can really be applied to every diverse group and generation. The more managers understand about their employees and what motivates them, the more effective they’ll be at mentoring and ensuring employees are continuing to gain career momentum.
A mature age worker is an ideal candidate to provide mentoring to new employees. Tap into this resource in your own organization to enrich the work experiences of both the experienced employee and the new employee. Being asked to share their expertise is a sure-fire way to keep older employees engaged and a way for organizations to directly benefit from their knowledge and experiences.
Creating a culture of job satisfaction by finding ways to meet the needs of all employees, regardless of age, is key to maintaining a positive employer brand and developing a satisfying workplace environment.
A Pew study found that 54 percent of workers older than 65 are still employed because they want to be, and not because they need the money. The same survey found that over half of workers 65 and older say they are completely satisfied with their jobs, compared to less than one-third of workers ages 16 to 64. Organizations who want to improve job satisfaction ratings can look to their experienced workforce to provide guidance for younger employees to help them find satisfaction in the work they’re doing now.
Assume mature workers know tech
The assumption that experienced employees don’t know how to use tech is erroneous. If an individual has been in the workforce, they have most likely been forced to keep up to date with the latest technology. However, no one can know every tool available or in use at every company. Try to strike a balance between expecting that seasoned workers will understand technology, and offering training and assistance when a new tool is introduced. In the new workplace reality, many organization have five generations of employees, from baby boomers to GenZ, all working side by side. With this mix of generations and experiences comes a mix of technological sophistication. It may be that many workers, of all ages, will need training or assistance using a tool they’ve never used before. The challenge isn’t limited to mature workers.
Avoid making the assumption that just because tenured employees didn’t grow up with a particular technology, they don’t know how to use it. Offer ample training to all employees on any new software or tools, regardless of age or experience. When you begin to invest in the employee lifecycle and experience, from onboarding to outplacement, opportunities for continuing education and learning become table stakes. Give tenured employees the chance to explore and learn on the job. Remember, many of these employees didn’t grow up with the technology we use now, but most of them were in the workforce when it was being developed. In some ways, they may have a perspective and understanding of how technology was developed that younger employees don’t.
Recognize the entire employee journey
It’s best to be open and honest about how you support employees throughout their entire employment journey – into, through, and out of your organization. Improving hiring practices, providing career development support, and delivering severance packages that afford all employees the support they need to leave your organization and make new beginnings are critical elements for companies hoping to continue to compete in the new employee relationship economy. When you’re thinking about ways to engage employees and create lifelong relationships, consider every generation of employee at your organization. It’s a mistake to focus on the “popular” generation and forget that there are multiple generations of people who are affected by the decisions you make and the HR policies you establish.
As we recently shared on the RiseSmart blog, HR has come a long way in the last decade. Hiring managers and employers are becoming increasingly aware of the advantages of hiring, and retaining, a diverse workforce. Diversity is more than gender and ethnicity—it includes diversity of experience, background, and industry tenure. When we find better ways to give all employees a voice, it’s a win-win for us all.