Older employees are inflexible, slow and expensive: a cliché that is far from being true. Experienced employees are a valuable resource for a company – both professionally and personally. Nevertheless, looking for a new job if you are over 50 years old can be difficult nowadays. Companies need to rethink the way they handle mature employees.
At 81%, the employment rate of 50 to 64-year-olds is relatively high in Switzerland (SECO, 2018), but the figure is misleading. In order to escape unemployment, many employees earn their living with occasional jobs or become self-employed with short-term orders and projects. Their motto: doing everything to not end up with the regional employment agency or even receiving social benefits. Because once you end up in the system, it is hard to get out again. Older employees have to wait around 1.5 times longer before their job search is rewarded with success – and their risk of long-term unemployment is way above average. More than a quarter of jobseekers over the age of 50 have to come to terms with the fact that they cannot find a new job.
Slow and Afraid of Change?
But why do older employees struggle so hard to find a new job? Perhaps it is due to the often-repeated prejudice that older people are afraid of change and therefore do not want to get used to new processes, methods and ways of working. A reality check shows that this generalization is not valid. In the same way that not every millennial is a social media crack, older employees are not afraid of change per se, either. One thing is clear, however: the longer you follow a certain routine, the harder it is to get used to new ways. But this not only applies for older workers, but for people in general. Routine and monotony lead to a decline in creativity and enthusiasm – regardless of age.
Prejudice also prevails with regard to personnel costs. Higher pension fund contributions and many years of professional experience tend to make older employees more expensive. But older employees are often willing to negotiate when it comes to their salary. If their children have left home, the cost of living and thus wage expectations fall. Therefore, the argument that older employees are too expensive is often not true, either. Moreover, diversity – not only in terms of gender, but also in terms of origin, education and age – is a key success factor for companies. Diverse teams work more successfully. The McKinsey Diversity Study (2018) found that diversity doubles the probability of being profitable as a company.
New Models: Learning From Each Other
Those who give up on older employees per se are making a mistake. After all, the considerable wealth of experience that older employees bring with them is a valuable resource. Young employees may have the latest knowledge from training and studies, but they often lack practical knowledge and experience. This is where companies can take action and introduce new internal cooperation models. Older and younger employees could regularly exchange information on specific topics and tasks in a kind of mentoring. In this way they learn and benefit from each other. Collaboration in age-mixed teams also allows employees to use their individual strengths and skills in a profitable way.
Companies Have Responsibility
In addition to their economic and ecological responsibilities, companies also have a social responsibility: giving up on employees over 50 is not just economically unacceptable – due to the loss of valuable experience and many years of knowledge – but also ethically intolerable. In addition to financial losses, prolonged job searches and unemployment also affect mental health. Those who are excluded from working life against their will often struggle with the feeling that they are no longer needed; that they cannot make a contribution. In short: they do not feel valuable.
When recruiting employees, companies should therefore not ask themselves whether the candidate is too old, but what qualifications and skills they bring with them, and how the person fits into the team. Everyone has a different level of experience, knowledge and skills. A company that knows its employees can also deploy them according to their individual profile. In the end, both sides benefit from such an approach.