The Encore Career
Over the past century, the average age of the workforce has increased as medical science has continued to enhance longevity and vitality. As we discussed in this chapter, many individuals will work past the previously established ages of retirement, and the fastest-growing segment of the workforce is individuals over the age of 55.
Unfortunately, older workers face a variety of discriminatory attitudes in the workplace. Researchers scanned more than 100 publications on age discrimination to determine what types of age stereotypes were most prevalent across studies. They found that stereotypes inferred that older workers are lower performers. Research, on the other hand, indicates they are not, and organizations are realizing the benefits of this needed employee group.
Dale Sweere, HR director for engineering firm Stanley Consultants, is one of the growing number of management professionals actively recruiting the older workforce. Sweere says older workers “typically hit the ground running much quicker and they fit into the organization well.” They bring to the job a higher skill level earned through years of experience, remember an industry’s history, and know the aging customer base.
Tell that to the older worker who is unemployed. Older workers have long been sought by government contractors, financial firms, and consultants, according to Cornelia Gamlem, president of consulting firm GEMS Group Ltd., and she actively recruits them. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average job search for an unemployed worker over age 55 is 56 weeks, versus 38 weeks for the rest of the unemployed population.
Enter the encore career, a.k.a. unretirement. Increasingly, older workers who aren’t finding fulfilling positions are seeking to opt out of traditional roles. After long careers in the workforce, an increasing number are embracing flexible, work-from-home options such as customer service positions. For instance, Olga Howard, 71, signed on as an independent contractor for 25–30 hours per week with Arise Virtual Solutions, handling questions for a financial software company after her long-term career ended. Others are starting up new businesses. Chris Farrell, author of Unretirement, said, “Older people are starting businesses more than any other age group.” Others funnel into nonprofit organizations, where the pay may not equal the individual’s previous earning power, but the mission is strong. “They need the money and the meaning,” said Encore.org CEO Marc Freedman. Still others are gaining additional education, such as Japan’s “silver entrepreneurs,” who have benefited from the country’s tax credits for training older workers.
Individuals who embark on a second-act career often report they are very fulfilled. However, the loss of workers from their longstanding careers may be undesirable. “In this knowledge economy, the retention of older workers gives employers a competitive edge by allowing them to continue to tap a generation of knowledge and skill,” said Mark Schmit, executive director of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation. “New thinking by HR professionals and employers will be required to recruit and retain them. Otherwise, organizations’ greatest asset will walk out the door.”
What changes in employment relationships are likely to occur as the population ages?
Do you think increasing age diversity will create new challenges for managers? What types of challenges do you expect will be most profound?
How can organizations cope with differences related to age discrimination in the workplace? How can older employees help?