In praise of older workers

In praise of older workers

by Stuart Crawford
article from Wednesday 8, August, 2018

ACCORDING TO the Equality Act of 2010, it is illegal in most circumstances to discriminate against an employee, or in an advertisement for a job, on account of age. Yet many recruiters and head-hunters will tell you, privately and off the record of course, that finding employment becomes increasingly difficult as you get older.

I know this from personal experience too. For me, leaving the army after 20 years service was a pretty radical shift in direction, career wise at least. However, I was “only” 45 at the time and thought that I would find getting a job would be reasonably straightforward.  How wrong I was. Despite having had what might be regarded as a fairly successful career in the military, I just could not get a job. Out of over 100 job applications I got, I think, three interviews, only one of which led to the offer of employment. And that particular employer (no names, no pack drill, but they know who they are) phoned me two days later and said they’d changed their minds!

To be fair, much of this might have been due to civilian employers not understanding the attributes and skills ex-military people can bring to the workplace. Be that as it may, it was a pretty sobering experience, and I wasn’t the only one. Many ex-servicemen and women have similar tales to tell. As I said at the time, you could have planned and carried out the Normandy Landings single-handedly but if you didn’t have the specified three years experience of working in a call centre you were never going to be shortlisted for that manager’s job on offer. Eventually I found the only way to earn a living in civvy street was to become self-employed, and thank goodness I did, for the rewards – both financial and in terms of life-work balance – were infinitely greater than they would have been had I become an employee.

Twenty years on I find, disappointingly, that the age problem is still writ large for me and my peer group. And yet, with an ageing population and increasing numbers of people having, or choosing, to work on well beyond the “normal” retiral age of 65, discrimination against the more mature worker cohort seems even more counterintuitive. Let’s look at some of the advantages this group might have to offer.

Firstly, it’s axiomatic that older workers will generally bring with them considerable experience and knowledge of both working and the workplace and their own specialities within it.  This is something that, obviously, no 25-year-old can match – how could they? Knowing the “battlespace” means that they can work quicker too, and of course they are well placed to pass on their knowledge to younger colleagues, thereby contributing to the general education and professional development of the workforce.

Next, many older workers may no longer have the same demands of family, housing, education and so on as their offspring will have moved on; the financial demands on them as individuals can be considerably diminished. Accordingly, most tend not to be greedy when it comes to their remuneration aspirations. On top of this, older folk may well be more flexible in terms of part-time or fixed contract work, not needing the same level of job security because their commitments are much diminished – some may actually have paid off their mortgages!

Third, many older workers are looking for a job rather than a career, for obvious reasons. Many of us will have had careers previously, and have been competitive and ambitious in our time, but there is an element of “been there, done that, got the tee shirt” about it all. Generally we just want to work and be useful and occupied. We ain’t generally any sort of threat to the CEO or MD because many of us have probably done that in a past life and don’t want to repeat the experience. Once is enough for most folk.

Finally, we oldies can be a calming influence in the workplace when things are going both well and badly. Without being patronising or condescending, older and more experienced colleagues can dampen down unjustified euphoria with a dose of common sense, and provide a sense of realism when others might think the end is nigh. Some of us may have worked in environments where a mistake might actually threaten life itself as opposed to just the bottom line. That tends to bring a sense of proportionality.

Against this background, then, I’m puzzled by the reasons why employers eschew the opportunity to take advantage of what is essentially a largely untapped resource of talent and experience. What’s not to like about a potential loyal, experienced, skilled and relatively undemanding workforce just waiting to be given the chance to participate?

I’m free for interview most days, by the way.

© Stuart Crawford 2018

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