Older workers face backlash despite a wealth of experience

Oct 18 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Older workers are often unable to keep pace with new technology and are viewed increasingly negatively in many other areas. But according to a U.S. survey, they more than make up for this in the advice, experience and mentoring they can give to younger employees.

The online poll of 307 HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management found that nearly 71 per cent felt older workers brought "invaluable experiences" to the workplace, largely unchanged on a similar poll in 2003.

But in many other areas perceptions of older workers and what they could bring to the workplace were becoming more, not less, negative.

Nearly two thirds felt they served as mentors for those with less experience, slightly down from the 72 per cent reported in 2003.

More than six out 10 felt older workers may be more willing to work part time or seasonally, down from 72 per cent last time around.

And 60 per cent said older workers were more reliable, again a decline from the 68 per cent reported in 2003.

Some 59 per cent said older workers had a stronger work ethic, down from 69 per cent and 58 per cent said older workers added diversity of thoughts and approach to team projects, against 61 per cent.

Half felt older workers took their work more seriously than younger employees, but still down from 58 per cent and 46 per cent said they are more loyal, down from 58 per cent.

Four out of 10 felt older workers brought with them established networks of contacts and clients, down from 51 per cent, and 34 per cent thought older workers had higher retention rates, down from 44 percent.

While nearly half of the HR professionals polled felt older workers did not keep up with technology, this was an improvement on 53 per cent recorded in 2003.

Perceptions were getting more positive in other areas too. Slightly more than a third said older workers were more expensive, for instance in health care costs, against 36 per cent last time around.

And just under a quarter said there were no disadvantages to hiring older workers, compared with 19 per cent in 2003.

Fewer HR professionals also felt older workers were less flexible, more likely to require training or stifled creativity.

And there was also improvement in perceptions of drive and enthusiasm of older workers, plus there absence rates, said the SHRM.