What obstacles do older workers face?
Depending upon your previous career or work experience, the difficulties you face may vary to some degree. However, there are several challenges that most elderly workers will all face, regardless of their chosen field. Since less than 45% of American workers expect to be able to stop working once they reach retirement age, the number of aging employees will continue to expand. If you are growing older, you will need to be aware of what specific difficulties you may encounter.
Age bias is pervasive
Probably the largest challenge that older workers face is age bias. In fact, 78% of employees over the age of 50 say they have noticed or encountered age discrimination in the workplace, and 33% of workers over 50 believe their job may be at risk due to their age. In some companies, algorithms weed out older job candidates based solely on their age.
Age discrimination is, unsurprisingly, illegal. The Age Discrimination Employment Act of 1967 provides protection from ageism in the workplace and in hiring practices. In addition, the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 provides legal protection from discrimination based on age. Since the inception of the 1967 act, at least 18,000 complaints regarding age discrimination have been filed, and over $91 million have been paid as a results of age discrimination lawsuits. In spite of all this, age discrimination continues in the workplace in both subtle and obvious ways.
If you are an older worker in a job you have held for years, you may feel that people aren’t taking you as seriously as they once did. You may notice that people interrupt you more frequently or dismiss your ideas. You may be left out of important meetings or memos, or be made to feel like you are hindering the goals of the company. This is unsurprising, given that most younger workers endorse the concept of “succession,” which is the idea that older workers should step aside and allow the new generation to make their own way in business.
There may be an element of intimidation involved in ageist behaviors in the workplace as well. A full 15% of workers under age 40 say they do not want a boss that is older than 70, despite their years of experience and expertise. Additionally, three times more people would prefer a 30-year-old boss over a 70-year-old boss.
If you are an older person searching for a new job or trying to begin a second career, the age bias may be even more evident. Statistics show that Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964 and currently between the ages of 57-75, have to plan for a lengthy job search. Baby Boomers require an average of 46 weeks to find a new job, while their younger counterparts average 43 days to search for a job, interview, and begin working. Often employers will not even look at a resume from an older person, and if they do offer an interview, aging candidates are rarely hired.
Some ageism in the workplace is more overt. Coworkers may make comments or jokes about an older worker’s age. You may be encouraged to take an early retirement. You may not be offered the same opportunities as younger counterparts who actually have less experience.
Because hiring and firing decisions, project assignments, job duties, and promotions are often made based on who is the best “fit,” it is difficult to prove that ageism is the reason behind any of those choices. But looking at patterns in workplaces across the United States, it is evident that ageism continues to be pervasive throughout all types of employment settings.
Work is physically and mentally demanding
Another challenge faced by older American workers is the level of demand that employment places on the human body. Some evidence suggests that the physical work of employment keeps people fit; however, jobs that require a lot of physical exertion or repetitive movements are more likely to cause injuries and accidents in older employees. Some who are aging may find that they have less energy or endurance than they used to. Some may also find themselves with more emerging health conditions that impact their ability to work or cause them to need more time off from work. The physical demands of work may be challenging for many aging workers.
In addition, work is demanding mentally and cognitively. While there are mental and cognitive benefits to continuing to work, older people may find it more difficult to focus and remember information. It may take a bit longer to complete tasks because mental processing speeds slow down as people age. This may cause workers to feel inadequate in completing the necessary tasks related to their jobs. It can be emotionally challenging to be the object of age bias, and mental health may suffer.
While there are physical, mental, and cognitive benefits to continuing to work for many employees, continuing your career may have an impact on your overall health as well. The demands of work on your health are obstacles to be considered when continuing or returning to a job.
Technology is constantly changing
When many elderly and aging workers were first employed, computers did not exist as a part of daily life. Research has demonstrated that older adults are more likely to rely on older forms of technology, such as landline phones and desktop computers, while younger workers are more likely to use tablets and smartphones. Studies show that older people are sometimes anxious or apprehensive about using new technologies, fearing that they are too complicated or difficult to use.
Technology in the workplace is, of course, constantly changing. Older people who wish to continue working must be able to adapt to new technology use or find workplaces that can accommodate their limited use of new technology. Many, of course, are willing to learn and adapt, but age bias is relevant once again as managers may perceive a lack of technology use as a liability and avoid hiring or promoting older workers.
Financial concerns may be an obstacle
Many who wish to continue working into old age like the idea of continuing to earn a paycheck. However, many jobs willing to hire older workers pay minimum or low wages, and it may not be enough to live off of. In addition, the cost of insurance rises with age, and greater employee contributions for insurance may apply as you age. Sometimes, the money gained through employment may not be enough to negate the costs: financially, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Additionally, many older workers may worry about how continued employment will impact their Social Security benefits. Indeed, if you begin receiving Social Security before full retirement age, you must earn less than $18,960 (for tax year 2021); otherwise, there is a penalty whereby $1 in benefits is deducted for every $2 you earn over the limit. In the year you reach retirement age, you must earn less than $50,520 (for tax year 2021); otherwise, there is a penalty whereby $1 in benefits is deducted for every $3 you earn over the limit, a slight reduction in the penalty. The impact of employment on Social Security benefits ends once you reach full retirement age.
How can I be successful in the workplace as an aging worker?
There is no doubt that the benefits of working into old age are real. In fact, 25-40% of retirees actually return to the workplace, for a number of reasons. Most frequently, they cite the need for purpose, the desire to use their brains, and socialization as the main drivers in continuing to work. Many older employees also state that they know they still have something to offer, such as knowledge and skills, a strong work ethic, or specialized expertise.
Of course, for many, the desire to continue working is driven by financial need. At full retirement age, 75% of Americans have less than $250,000 saved for retirement, and the median savings is $172,000. If a person lives 20 years beyond retirement, they will have about $8,600 a year to spend on all of their wants and needs. Even with Social Security active, this is a very restrictive limit.
Those who wish to continue successfully working into old age will have a number of obstacles to overcome, including age bias, physical and mental demands of work, keeping up with changing technology, and balancing financial considerations. However, with preparation and work, it is possible to be successful.
For those seeking a new job, it is essential to update your resume. Most people over age 60 have not updated their resume in over 10 years. It is essential to have a modern, updated resume highlighting your skills and experience, but not necessarily your age. Be careful of language and dates that may pull your resume from consideration based on computer algorithms.
If you do land an interview, put your best foot forward. Dress in contemporary designs. Lean slightly forward, be attentive and engaged, and ask follow-up questions. Highlight your experience and skills, and be sure to include any recent education or training that keeps you relevant in your field. Talk about what you have to offer as an older employee, such as familiarity with change, adaptation, specialized knowledge, and a strong work ethic.
Whether seeking a new job or continuing in a longtime career, it is essential to stay informed of new developments. Attend conferences and continuing education courses, listen to related podcasts, and read books and journals relevant to the job you want or currently have. Take special care to keep abreast of new technology that is used in your field. There are many courses available online and at community colleges and senior centers that can help you learn new programs and applications.
Consider your strengths and limitations when you think about continued employment. Will you need shorter hours, or fewer days? Will you be more productive if you take time off each week? Will you need to reduce the physical demands of your work? Are you happy in your job, or would you like to explore something new? Would consulting be an appropriate modification to your role, given your maturity and expertise?
Above all, remember that you have value as a worker. Your age does not indicate your ability. Research has shown that multigenerational teams make for more successful workplaces. Be sure to highlight this statistic, and have confidence that you can overcome the obstacles to continue working into old age if you wish.