Myths about the Older Worker

by Ronald Louis Peterson

 My career as an award-winning broadcast journalist and public relations counselor ended with a corporate downsizing the year I turned 57, which coincided with the start of the Great Recession. Since then, I’ve had a few interviews in my field but there was always someone who was a “better fit.” So, I reinvented myself as a new car salesman for eight months until that position was eliminated when the auto industry tanked.

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I reinvented myself again to start a pharmacist recruitment company. But despite 60-hour work weeks for a year, that didn’t work out either because the healthcare recruitment business was another casualty of the economic downturn.

Next, I landed a part-time position as an English composition instructor at a local community college, with the hope that it would lead to a fulltime position. But because there was a long waiting line to fill those jobs and because I was paid minimum wage, I left to work with a former colleague until he closed his small public relations firm.

After assessing the job market at 63, I turned to writing novels with the hope of making money one day. So, I’m following my passion because there are still too many myths about older workers that prevent me from landing another paying job in my field.

Myth: Employers don’t discriminate against older workers

  • According to a 2013 AARP survey, 64 percent of older workers between 45 and 74 say they have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace and 93 percent say it is very or somewhat common.

 

  • According to a 2012 Investors Group survey of small business owners in Canada, 79 percent said it was not likely that they would fill their open positions with someone older than 65.

 

  • According to a 2012 survey by Adecco of hiring managers at 500 U.S. companies, 72 percent think mature workers need more technological know-how and 33 percent think mature workers resist taking direction from younger managers.

 

Myth: Most workers 65 and older are less productive than younger workers

According to a 2012 Investors Group survey of small business owners in Canada:

  • 85 percent said that workers 65 years and older are just as productive as younger workers.
  • 79 percent think that senior workers have the required level of energy and ambition for their jobs.

 

Myth: Workers don’t want or need to work until they’re 65

According to a 2013 Gallup survey:

  • 37 percent of non-retired Americans say they expect to retire after age 65.
  • 26 percent at age 65.
  • 26 percent before age 65.

 

Gallup found that the big change is an increase in the number of people who expect to work past age 65. It rose to 37 percent in 2013 from:

  • 22 percent in 2003.
  • 14 percent percent in 1995.

 

However, older workers are apparently being forced to retire before reaching 65 since the average age of U.S. retirees today is 61. 

 

Myth: Older workers are not go getters

According to a 2013 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, an aging population and increasing rate of entrepreneurship among older workers has led to a rising share of new entrepreneurs in the 55 to 64 age group. And that’s an increase from:

  •  23.3 percent in 2012.
  •  14.3 percent in 1996.

 

Myth: Older workers have a poor work ethic

According to a 2009 Pew survey of people aged 16 and older, 74 percent believe that older adults have the best work ethic. Even young people think their parents’ and grandparents’ generations have a better work ethic:

  • 68 percent for those under 30.
  • 73 percent for those 50 and older.
  • This sentiment rises to 80 percent among 30 to 49-year-olds.

Myth: It is cost effective to replace experienced workers

A 2005 analysis of Towers Perrin data indicates that replacing an experienced worker of any age can cost 50 percent or more of the individual’s annual salary in turnover-related costs. 

Where does this leave me?

Where does this leave me? As I pursue my passion for creative writing, I’m thankful that my wife has a job and that she’s six years younger than me. And, while I regret that I did not “retire” from my public relations-marketing communications profession on my terms, I’m now working at becoming a great novelist–my real “dream” job.

 

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Published by

Barbara Nevins Taylor

As the winner of 22 Emmy Awards and a slew of journalism honors and awards, I created ConsumerMojo.com to give you the straight story about complicated stuff. Tell us what you want to know and we'll get you the answers.

11 thoughts on “Myths about the Older Worker”

  1. What we need is a strong law, strongly enforced, against age discrimination, with costly penalties for violators. There may be some wishy washy age discrimination laws on the books now, but they’re far too difficult to enforce. An absence, or near absence of employees age 55 and older on a company payroll ought to be prima facie evidence of age discrimination.

    The need for such a law grows increasingly important as people live longer and the pressure grows on Social Security and Medicare to increase the retirement age. This nation can either let its older workers continue being productive citizens, contributing productivity, significant tax revenues, and lessening pressure on entitlement programs, or we can have millions of not-quite-elderly folks on food stamps. (Assuming Congress doesn’t do away with food stamps, too.)

    1. Oh Peter I agree with you. IF you are “OLD” today your dead in the work force. But I’ll tell you I can run circle around these young people. They take no pride in their work. They have no ethics. And they take off when they feel like it or have a sick child at home. One would think they would be more interested in the older person who knows what they are doing and doesn’t sniffle or choke on any job that they are not 100% familiar with. They take a cop out. Makes me just want to push them aside and say look dummy this is how you do it. And the sad things is most of them who run a cash register couldn’t even make change if they were unable to put in the money they were handed and the register tells them what to give in change. I just shake my head and say these are some of tomorrows leaders. God help us

      1. Right on, Betty! I’ve worked with milennials and they’re much more interested in their smartphones and friends than working hard for the money. Many are still living at home at age 25, sponging off mom and dad because they were spoiled growing up by…us, the baby boomers. Sadly, we taught them to aspire for more and more without working that hard. Although it’s refreshing to see the young people’s craving for work/life balance, they just don’t want to put in the education and time it takes to achieve their goals…if they have them beyond partying. True, not every industry is like this. Retail, newspapers and public relations are where the bulk of my experience lies.

        The insult is when I have to train them and they’re gone in two months or less. Particularly in retail, the college students don’t have much interest in learning how to call in …some don’t even show up for work and then are shocked when they’re fired. But it’s the incessant love of their phones and video games that gets most annoying. They’re on phones making personal phone calls while on the job, in a car driving small children on the job…I’ve seen it all. This shouldn’t be tolerated yet the kids continue to sneak their phones into work. It’s easy because they’re so small.

        Companies usually have the attitude that they can hire young people at lower wages and get the same kind of results, which makes absolutely no sense. The reason older people have a hard time working with younger managers is they latter can be insensitive, making demands that you move faster and faster and not respecting the older person’s experience and knowledge. Then there’s the attitude that you must WANT to retire and play golf. Hey, I want to keep working as long as possible. I love writing and contributing to society and I need the pay! I can’t count on Social Security to be there for me. I knew that in the ’90s because at 51, the numbers don’t work. There are 76 million baby boomers and far less Generation Xers behind me. And I don’t see Congress making any efforts to fix this problem. If you think you can afford to retire, you’re kidding yourself. One big illness like cancer can wipe out everything you have. In 2008, I lost all my stock market investment so I won’t risk my money there ever again.

        Older workers are professional, work harder and longer than most 20-year-olds and often do the jobs of two or three people. Those are cold, hard facts. So why we get all this discrimination puzzles me. Turnover is also very, very expensive to companies. Yet I’ve worked at places where it’s as high as 60 or even 80 percent. I can’t imagine what their balance sheets look like. One of those companies was Arthur Andersen, which worked accountants 70-hour weeks on a constant basis. Obviously, burnout was very high. I cheered the day they imploded. Of course, only younger people could work such long hours. But I’ll never understand why they felt that was necessary. You could hire two part-time, older workers and get a much better result.

        1. Lisa oh you are so right. We retired in 1996 my husband was 60 and we had a third generation company. We gave it to our daughter and soninlaw. Soninlaw was unhappy because he couldn’t do it like my husband did. He didn’t have the personality. So my husband sat in a chair for 18 months because of the devastation. His grandfather started this business in 1900. He was hoping for it to go down to our grandson who would have been generation #5 Just as well I guess because my husband became handicapped. Artificial joints, hips and knees and degerative arthritics of the spine. Like a lot of others we lost in the market as well. But I now live in Maine and can’t sit still and do nothing. So I work as a volunteer in a hospital. LOVE IT> And when I was young wanted to be a Dr. But in the 50s my parents couldn’t afford it and men didn’t want females in medical school. I have NEVER lost my love for medicine. So I do what I can for others. And try to make it my business that I never leave a patients room without making them either laugh out loud or smile. And that joy is just as good for me. At this time in my life I do need extra income. But no one hires an OLD PERSON. Their loss. As I said I can still run circles around these young people. God help our country when it’s there time to take over. Or maybe there won’t be a country as I have always known it. To me this administration is doing a good job at taking it down the tubes.

  2. Ron’s story parallels my experience. I was enticed to take an early pension benefit from my former employer and beginning at age 54 had a successful run as an entrepreneur until I encountered a double whammy: In 2010, a major client did not renew their contract, and then in mid-2011 my wife felt obliged to retire due to the physical demands of her job. Since her modest (but steady) salary was devoted to daily living expenses, and we could not rely on my sporadic business revenue, I made a concerted effort to get back to full time corporate employment. I followed all the conventional wisdom about modern job searches, paying for a premium “Job Seeker” profile on LinkedIn, and using it to expand and tap my extensive network of contacts. With my 25+ years of accomplishments, and my willingness to compromise on compensation levels in return for a steady and predictable paycheck, wouldn’t I make an attractive candidate?

    I studiously read every sentence of job descriptions and qualifications. Any objective observer would have concluded that my application and resume met each one to a tee; except for the unstated age question. Euphemistically, let’s call it “over-qualification.” Even at companies where I knew someone personally, I encountered the “not a good fit” language in auto-generated responses to my applications. Although still called “Human Resources,” the HR function is no longer run by humans who can make individual judgment about candidates. Rather, employers rely on outsourced platforms like “Taleo,” where robots are the ones to vet candidates. I am thoroughly convinced that these systems are automatically set to reject any candidate with more than 20 years of experience, and to then spit out the “not a good fit” declination letter.

    By the end of 2011, having surpassed age 64, I went along with my financial advisor’s recommendation and applied for my Social Security benefit. Our combined benefits, plus the corporate pension I collect, has enabled us to maintain our lifestyle, and so earnings from the occasional projects are put aside.

    I supplement the pursuit for paid consulting gigs with unpaid activity, such as counseling students at City College, my Alma Mater, and moderating social media sites for the Alumni Association. I am just dipping into blogging, and have begun collating my late father’s memorabilia for a potential biography. Add to that my travels to see our bi-coastal grandchildren, and I’ve got plenty to do. Best of all, I am doing what I enjoy.

    Ron, I am totally with you. Here’s to the geezers!

  3. Great evidence that age is a worthwhile goal. Smiles.

    If older workers are really so bad as the myths imply, one must wonder how we managed to survive without all the O’blamea’ care. Also seems strange that when an old worker loses a job, they just keep seeking and keep finding some way to provide for self.

    Perhaps we just have a different set of values, morals and work ethics. But, of course, that too is a myth.

    Enjoyed, the article Barbara.

  4. I find these young workers are just unreal. I can still run circles around them and I am 72. They have no ethics or ambition or anything else. What a shame. If you really need a job and are older you can’t get one because everyone considers you old and used up. WRONG. Older people don’t have young children they have to stay home for because they are sick. Or something is going on at school. There are some of us elders that truly need a job and no one is willing to give us a chance. They don’t know what they are missing out on. Someone who is faithful and loyal and has wonderful work ethics.

  5. Then there’s the late in life family. We can’t have children, but at 47 we had our daughter . She is now 16 and we are a wee bit older. LOL Even at our age, I’m sure she will tell you we can still do the job of raising her in a lousy economy. Older and wiser, you bet! I’ve never been given a task I couldn’t do well, or better than the next guy, whether he was my age or younger. So there is still hope for us older relics of a time gone by, but well lived, and well spent. Cheers, Don
    Of course, being a well published writer will make all the difference as I age even more. When I can no longer lift objects as I did before, I can still lift a finger or two to type a story. http://tinyurl.com/l4al233 :-}

  6. This is a great post. Companies do discriminate against older workers. According to Psychological studies, men peak at around age 55. Their experience, dedication, and commitment, are par excellence. Sadly, those in the various industries don’t seem,or don’t care to face facts. Glad you are pursuing your first love. You will succeed. Thank God I was able to close shop, and retire when I felt like it. This younger generation has much to learn. Of course they have the energy, but the older gen. has the necessary experienced, that can overcome any obstacles, when used wisely. The best to you. Blessings..

    1. Dr.Velazquez-Thanks for your thoughtful response We hope you share the post with others. We recently started a forum and we’re talking about 55 plus issues. Please also add your voice there.

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