Gender bias, racial bias, and cultural bias are all important topics that have received lots of coverage and discussion. However, there is one bias we probably don’t talk enough about – bias around age. I remember one of my primary school teachers talking about the baby boomer generation, explaining that when we reached working age there would be more retirees than ever before and we would be the ones under pressure to fund these retirees. She said the system – as it was – wasn’t sustainable. Fast forward to 2022 and that certainly rings true. The system is changing. People are choosing to work for longer. But interestingly it’s not just to fund their lifestyles or save for retirement as many may perceive. The ageing workforce brings talents, skills, experience, and perspective they want to contribute, as well as ambition and a thirst to learn more. With skills in high demand, mature-age workers are the best untapped potential you may have previously overlooked.
Loyal and committed
As the population ages it is only natural that the workforce should age with it. I’ve recently had three interviews with candidates who freely admitted their age without prompting, explaining that they had approximately eight to 10 years of working left, and they wanted to give this time to one company. I said I didn’t know many 25 to 30-year-olds who would tell me they wanted to give eight to 10 years of their life to one company, with the average tenure being two to three years (or 12 months if you are in sales, but that’s another story…).
There is a misconception that people in their late 20s or 30s are the only ones motivated, passionate and driven, possibly spurred on by the media industry that glorifies youth. I know many people who are more motivated in their 40s and 50s than they were earlier in life. Perhaps it might have something to do with kids and a mortgage!
A study of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations concluded that verbal skills, communication, and intelligence remain unchanged as a person ages. Another misconception is that mature age workers won’t be able to adapt to changes and new technology. However, Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that Australians aged 55-64 are the fastest growing users of information technology.
Overcoming the bias
There are many myths about mature-age workers this article successfully proves wrong. According to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, mature-age workers are 2.4 times more likely to remain with an employer, get ill less often, take fewer sick days and are quicker to come back to work after being ill.
There are many subtle advantages that come with experience. While specific quantifiable or industry skills can be learned, it’s the intangible soft skills like maturity, wisdom, emotional intelligence, being commercially curious and astute that are often undervalued and only appreciated when they are no longer there. Stephen Hawking once said, “work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it”. Work provides an outlet for your physical and mental energy, so why would you want to stop if you enjoy what you do?
When searching for a new staff member, be aware of the unconscious bias that may exist and try not to discount that mature applicant as you could run the risk of missing out of a wealth of knowledge and loyalty. As we often say, past performance is still the greatest indicator of future performance, and you can only get experience through time in the seat.
Photo by Karolina Grabowska