Age diversity looms large
How to profit from America’s older workforce
By Michael Carrillo
The nation’s work force is getting older. According to the Census
Bureau, by decade’s end the share of people aged 45 to 64 will leap 16
percent, to more than one American in four. These numbers mean that the
new frontier in diversity is managing a multi-generational workforce.
Too many companies are not prepared to make the most of America’s aging
workforce. And that’s a shame, because it not only shortchanges older
workers but American business.
Many executives – even older ones – have misconceptions about older
workers. One of the most common is that they cannot or will not learn
new skills. My experience in the CPG/retail industry shows just the
Most workers in their 40s and 50s are familiar with new technologies
and methods. Many were early adopters of the PC in the 80s and the
Internet in the 90s, and most stay current with industry trends. It may
sound counter-intuitive, but adaptability to change is a factor in
favor of older employees – they can accept change precisely because
they’ve been through more of it.
Another myth about older workers is that they don’t stay as long on the
job as long as younger hires. In fact, executives 45 to 54 stay on the
job twice as long as those 25 to 34, according to the Bureau of Labor
Then there’s the myth that older employees take more sick days.
Actually, attendance is better among older executives. They have, as a
group, a better work ethic.
And while older workers may command higher salaries than less
experienced colleagues, it is another myth that they cost organizations
more in the long run. When you balance their advantages in experience,
productivity, attendance and reduced training and turnover, they are
worth every additional dollar. Besides, in today’s soft employment
market, older managers will often gratefully accept salaries lower than
you might expect.
The biggest myth
The biggest and most harmful myth about older workers is that they are
“set in their ways.” This prejudice is hard to counter because it is so
subtle. But research shows that older managers accept change as readily
as younger workers, especially when the purpose of the change is
Older managers have seen what works and what doesn’t. It is
shortsighted to turn the greatest advantage of older workers against
them. Experience is not a disadvantage, but a great asset you can tap
into. You can’t have real diversity without the diversity that age and
Many executives look at someone older and assume that their best days
are behind them. I think that’s a mistake. It’s important to look
beyond conventional wisdom and see the person underneath.
Sixty the new forty
They say that “60 is the new 40,” and today’s health- and
trend-conscious “baby boomers” certainly feel and act younger than
their middle-aged parents did.
Senior business and government leaders have always worked well past
retirement age (Dial CEO Herbert Baum is 67, investor Warren Buffet is
74 and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan is 78, to cite just a few). By what
reasoning are energetic executives years younger than this considered
“over the hill?”
As the American workforce continues to age in the next decade,
executives in their 40s, 50s and even 60s will defy assumptions about
them and prove a great strategic edge for employers who have the vision
to hire them. Older managers are one of the great under-utilized
resources today. Giving them a chance isn’t just good HR policy, it’s
Michael Carrillo is president of
CPGjoblist, the CPG industry’s leading candidate referral system
for HR professionals and employers. You may contact him at Michael@cpgjoblist.com or call (626) 398-5381.
friendly version E-mail
© Copyright 2009 by the Network of Executive
Women. All rights reserved.