Understanding older generations at work
Mandatory retirement has been illegal in most industries for decades, but some managers are still reluctant to hire and retain workers older than 65. Frequently workers in this age group are characterized as inflexible, slower and reluctant to evolve with technology. But most employers find that today’s older workers challenge these stereotypes and can be real assets.
Biological and psychological changes occur as we get older. Each generation is also different sociologically from other age groups. Awareness of age-related differences can empower employers to capitalize on senior workers’ positive attributes and consider making workplace adaptations for their limitations.
Biological Age-Related Changes
While most stereotypes about older adults are greatly exaggerated, many biological changes do take place both physically and cognitively. Nearly every organ and system in the body is a bit less efficient than it once was but this does not mean inevitable disease or disability. The stereotype that seniors can’t hear or see well is false, but it is true that hearing and vision are not quite as sharp as they once were when we are younger. While Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not part of the normal aging process, tip of the tongue moments and slower reflex, reaction and recall times are.
Due to changes in eyesight and hearing, consider moving an older worker’s seat at a meeting table to enable a better view of a projection screen. Recognizing normal changes that happen to the aging brain can help managers understand older worker’s behavior. For example, some older workers may be quiet during that meeting but submit great ideas a few hours later, after they’ve had time to process.
Sociological Age-Related Changes
Sociologically, older workers are generally highly dedicated employees. Many seniors, particularly older women, are motivated by financial need. There are numerous advantages to deferring Social Security payments so many seniors want to put off collecting for as long as possible. Most older adults have also witnessed steep declines in their retirement accounts so there is a genuine need supplement their income. Others simply did not adequately plan for retirement and require additional income from a full or part time job.
Generationally, workers older than 65 are known for a strong work ethic. Even if there is not a significant financial incentive, they were raised in an era that idealized hard work. They are team-oriented and unlikely to leave coworkers in a bind. This age group has likely finished raising their families so they can be open to working more hours when necessary. They are known for honoring commitments and respecting authority.
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