Have you ever seen the 2015 movie The Intern with Robert De Niro?
It is a well-known fact that we as American businesses bias people in the workplace by age and assume it is a competitive disadvantage. But why think this way? In the Life Science industry, our workforce is aging at an extremely fast pace and like myself (turning 60 this year) the population of people at age 60 or over are going to outnumber children under the age of 5 this year and 25% of the workforce will be over the age of 55 by 2025. Our birth rates are not replacing the workforce and I challenge that the thought process needs to change in our hiring practices and organizational design!
Currently in career #2 and graduating to my 60’s this year the skills that have been gained over the past 40 years are of working are a valuable asset. Let’s identify Myths About Older Employees that I have actually been privy to hear over the years.
- Older employees aren’t interested in work- only retirement
- Older workers cannot handle the physical demands of a job
- While some jobs are physically demanding others in the modern-day office or factory can be handled by older workers if facilitated appropriately.
- Older workers are too expensive
- Retirees are generally covered by Medicare and don’t require the more expensive company funded healthcare options.
- They are more willing to work on a part-time basis rather than fulltime allowing for “job sharing” opportunities.
- Over a career lifetime, older workers have amassed a variety of skills that are easily transferred to new jobs without expensive training. More than likely if recently retired they are comfortable with current technology.
These are the myths! U.S. companies need the baby boomer generation in the Life Science workforce for the next 10 years to mentor and teach our younger generations more rapidly than we learned on our own though trial and error. However, they will not listen unless we change the bias in our culture.
Let’s identify the Pros:
- Experience: “Been there, done that” allowing them to be role models for younger workers
- Perspective: More confidence in their expertise which brings stability to the workplace along with maturity and knowledge that allows them to consider factors that younger workers just haven’t experienced yet when making decisions.
- Adaptability: Being a baby boomer myself, I can attest to this attribute as there have been more technology changes in the workplace than any other generation in the past. We have experienced it and we’ve had to adapt and accept.
- Responsibility and Commitment: We have learned to do the work, take pride in hard work, share ideas more and can be counted on in a crisis.
Now what about the Cons:
- More Skeptical of Optimism: Again, “been there, done that.” How many new programs and new initiatives have I seen fail in my experience? Ensure the older worker is on board and committed to a change or new program which will make them more likely to lead the younger workforce.
- More Independent: Less tolerant of hypocrisy, double standards or perceived injustice and office politics; expect that it this is real and in my opinion could offer advantages in cultural change.
- Likely to have hearing or vision deficiencies: This morning an upgrade in Outlook resulted in the font for my messages to be twice as large and I have my 60th birthday coming up- I wonder if they knew my vision was getting worse. Strength and balance waiver as we get older, as well as vision and hearing; just know and accommodate- is it really that hard?
It starts with YOU, hiring manager or director, HR business partner, CEO, COO, CFO…. Leadership. Look at the Life Science business continuity, succession planning and training today. Stretch the job requirements to accommodate, think of ways to be inclusive, stop restructuring older workers and start re-thinking the existing hiring and training norms!
Written by Michele Baxley, head of the Boaz Life Sciences and Animal Health recruiting practice