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Are you overlooking some of the benefits that an older worker may bring to your operation? We’re living in a youth-oriented culture, but one advantage that many older workers have over their younger counterparts is their maturity and breadth of experience in life as well as in the workplace. Because important skills like problem-solving and interpersonal communication continue to develop over time, older workers may be more equipped to deal with challenging situations effectively and with a level head.

In addition, more experienced workers may be more likely to spot inefficiencies and make suggestions about how to improve them. According to entrepreneur.com, more than one million hours of productivity are lost each year as a result of disorganization in the workplace, which means that these suggestions from older workers could have a real impact on a company's bottom line. And with the enhanced communication skills that often result from their many years of working and interacting with others, older workers may be more adept at communicating their ideas diplomatically in a way that is sensitive to workplace politics.

Even if it’s not intentional, ageism is against the law. Federal law protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination by employers on the basis of age. This means that it is illegal for companies to discriminate against older workers or job applicants in decisions about hiring, firing, layoffs, promotions, compensation, benefits, training opportunities or job assignments. It is also against the law to retaliate against anyone who speaks out against an employer's illegal age discrimination, for instance by firing or demoting that individual.

1) Myth busters

There are several myths surrounding the hiring and retaining of an older workforce, says Ricardo Twumasi and Sheena Johnson, who are lecturers in organizational psychology at the University of Manchester. They wrote about these myths in The Conversation, a nonprofit media outlet that publishes stories by academics and researchers.

Here are five of the most common stereotypes about older workers, and how they can be challenged.

2) They can’t learn new things

There is lots of research which dispels this myth. Older workers have been found to have lots of experience adapting to new tools, environments or working practices. Did you know that the average age for successful entrepreneurs is between 42 and 47?

3) They are less productive

There is very little evidence supporting this in people of working age, even taking into account the fact that people are retiring later than before. We might expect physical and cognitive abilities to decline with age, but this tends to be at an older age than you would be working. Age and workplace performance should not be seen to be linked with plenty of evidence showing older workers are just as effective as younger workers.

4) They take more time off sick

Research has shown this to be an inaccurate assumption. On average, it is true that older workers tend to take more time off on long-term sickness, but they also take less time off due to short-term sicknesses with no notice.

Older workers are also at lower risk of accidents in the workplace, but suffer from more fatal accidents. This averages out to be a similar amount of sickness time taken for all employees. There also are strategies we can use to improve the health of the workforce at all ages. This would allow us all to live longer, healthier lives.

5) They will retire and leave the organization

The average age of the population is increasing. As the population ages, the average age of employees will increase, too. There is no longer a default retirement age. So employers should recognize that a worker employed with lots of experience — even at 64 — could easily stay with the organization for many more years.

When someone joins a company at 24, there is no stronger guarantee that they will stay any longer, due to the quite modern practice of regularly switching jobs. So employers are faced with the same retention dilemma for all age groups. We now change jobs around once every five years on average.

6) They are ‘overqualified’ (and this is bad)

In some of our recent research, terms such as “inflexible” and “overqualified” were examples of the feedback given to older applicants when they were rejected for jobs. It is hard to justify the use of the term “overqualified,” although it can perhaps be explained by employers being concerned about people leaving the job after a short space of time for a job that better matches their skill set.

Meanwhile, there are many good reasons that an experienced worker may want to take a step down to a role that requires fewer specialist skills than their previous job. Also, older workers often report wanting part-time, more flexible or less stressful jobs, which might explain their moving to jobs they may be viewed as “overqualified” for.

To make the most out of the skills of an aging society and understand diverse customers, employers must think beyond these stereotypes of aging.

7) A diverse workforce

In the book “Managing the Older Worker,” Peter Cappelli and William Novelli explain how companies and younger managers can maximize the value provided by older workers. The key? Recognize that boomers’ needs differ from younger generations — and adapt your management practices accordingly. For instance, lead with mission: As employees age, they become more altruistic. Emphasize the positive impact of older workers’ efforts on the world around them.

Forge social connections: Many older employees keep working to maintain social relationships. Offer tasks that require interaction with others.

Provide different benefits: Tailor benefits — such as elder-care insurance programs or discount medication — to older workers’ interests.

Your organization needs older workers more than ever, according to the authors.

They transfer knowledge between generations, transmit your company’s values to new hires, make excellent mentors for younger employees, and provide a “just in time” workforce for special projects.

Yet more of these workers are reporting to people younger than they are. This presents unfamiliar challenges that — if ignored — can prevent you from attracting, retaining, and engaging older employees.

Sources: Kennard Law (www.kennardlaw.com), The Conversation (www.theconversation.com), and Wharton School (www.wharton.upenn.edu)