Myths and Truths of Older Workers                                                              

Think you can handle the truth? Well then, let’s take a little test from an article written by Gary Vikesland from

The last time you interviewed an employee over age 50, were you concerned that he or she would not be able to be as productive as a 20 or 30-year-old employee? Were you worried that the older employee might have memory or health problems, not be familiar with or be able to be trained to use new technology, or might retire before he or she completes training? Myths, myths, and more myths suddenly develop in the minds of employers when they interview an older worker (50 to 64 years of age).”

In today’s recession, you might even lower that age group to 40 to 64 years of age. But if you failed this test (but won’t admit it) let us put your mind at ease by debunking these myths with some cold hard facts Reach And Teach’s Just Lists, along with some added information from Mr. Vikesland:

MYTH: Older workers aren’t as productive as younger workers.  

FACT… “Productivity” is a character trait – not a generational trait. Business Week, in researching the aging workforce, states that people can be old, smart and productive assuming they maintain their health and stay abreast of standard technology. Researchers confirm that far from wearing people down, work can actually inspire people to be productive and fit.


MYTH: Older workers are too expensive.

FACT… In the time-based 20th century, the longer people worked, the more they earned. In the market-driven 21st century, private and public sector businesses have to become efficient low cost providers. People and organizations need to compete in this center and both must break the link between pay and seniority.

Now you may also be thinking that an older worker might have health problems; therefore, an older worker will cost the company too much money in terms of health care premiums. It is true that older male employees do utilize more health care dollars than younger male employees; on the other hand, older male employees generally do not carry as many dependents on their health policy as younger male employees do. Therefore, any increases in health care costs older workers might generate, are likely to be offset by having fewer dependents. In regards to older female employees over age 50, they generally use less health care dollars than younger female employees because they are past childbearing age.

If absenteeism rates determine health, then older workers should be healthier than younger workers. Research has shown that absenteeism rates are lower for employees' 50 to 65 years of age than employees between 33 to 44 years of age.


MYTH: Older workers can’t learn as well as younger workers.

FACT… The fastest growing group of Internet users is over age 50 (nearly doubled since 2009). According to a recent Harvard University study, the ability to use an accumulated body of knowledge keeps rising throughout the lifetimes of healthy people. It is true that the most effective ways to learn may be different for older workers than others. Experiential learning has proven to be of greatest value with this group.

 Okay, your great grandmother may have had trouble using a computer, but research has shown that employees over age 50 are able to learn to operate a computer as well as younger employees. In terms of training, any extra training costs, such as additional one to one training, which an older worker might require, are usually offset by reduced turnover rates among older workers.


MYTH: Older workers aren’t as creative or as innovative as younger workers.

FACT… Harvard University, Babson College and other institutions have conducted research on the link between innovation and age. Each study supports the statement that age-diversified work groups enhance innovation. Rich, accumulated knowledge, such as that supplied by experience, is integral to the creative process. Stories of individuals whose creativity has sustained them throughout their lifetimes are legendary. Look a few up and you will soon see that creativity is about the person not the demographic.


MYTH: Older workers can only do what they have always done.

FACT… At over 25% of the U.S. population, baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) are the single largest population cohort. Currently aged 43 to 61, baby boomers are moving through the prime years of small business formation. According to the Kauffman Foundation, Americans aged 55 to 64 form small businesses at the highest rate of any age group—28% higher than the adult average (see The Kaufman Indes of Entreprenurial Activity). Americans 45 to 54 also form small businesses at an above average rate. The National Study of the Changing Workforce found that workers 50 or older are much more likely than younger cohorts to run a small business. One result of similar studies: the largest and most successful group of new entrepreneurs are over age 50! Free agency (working for yourself) is growing at a fast clip especially for the professional workforce. Temp agencies are among the fastest growing U.S. employers of older workers. “Giving back” through volunteerism is the domain of the older worker. Many embrace new causes much as they did in the Camelot years.


MYTH: “We plan to work long beyond what was thought of as traditional retirement age.” – 8 out of 10 Boomers surveyed by AARP

FACT… What the statement should read is: “8 out of 10 Boomers HOPE to continue to work longer.” According to CNN Money, most workers have saved just $25,000 for retirement. In terms of sheer numbers, only a handful of people have plans that are specific, time-framed and actionable. The rate of workplace change is accelerating. New technologies are racing in and eliminating jobs that once needed masses of people to perform them, and the global workforce is grabbing careers out from under thousands of others. While all of this is happening, new opportunities are being created. New career options and new technologies are dramatically and drastically changing realities for the better — for those who plan and take action.


MYTH: Once people reach age 65, they really are too old to work!

FACT… In the United States, 23.2% of people between the ages of 65 and 74 were in the labor force (either working or looking for work) in 2006, according to data by the U.S. Census Bureau. The number is up from 19.6% in 2000. Recent studies of women from age 60 to 90 found that an equal number of women are working, in some capacity, as are retired. Some need the income and others feel that work gives their lives purpose. The lesson? Chronological age is neither the determinant of ability nor the arbitrator of talent for men or women.


MYTH: Customers don’t respond well to older sales and service workers.

FACT… After realizing that half of their customers were over 50, Borders decided that the best way to increase its market share was to stress personal service and to hire employees who could relate better to its customer base. There was an added bonus! Turns out that turnover among their workers over 50 is 10 times less than for those under 30. Reduced turnover costs and consistent service staff naturally led to increased profits. Here’s another plus. Extensive research indicates that verbal communication, a critical customer service skill, actually increases with age.


MYTH: Older workers will NOT be able to find healthcare coverage anywhere but in traditional, full-time jobs.

FACT… OUCH. This myth is far too close to the truth for many. However, once you meet their requirements, temporary staffing firms offer health care benefit participation at greatly reduced rates over the cost of insurance you can buy on your own. Temping is a growing source of opportunity for people seeking regular, long-term employment. It is a door that is open when all other doors of opportunity seem closed.


MYTH: Older women have less financial need to work than men.

FACT… Women earn less, save less, invest less and live longer than men. Over 60% of adults living in extreme poverty are women. Over 18 million children live in single-parent homes, the majority of which are headed by women. Women earn (Bureau of Labor Statistics average) 82% of of what men earn. Other research claims that women earn about 69 cents for every dollar earned by men. In part-time and temporary positions, reports indicate that older women earn 55 cents for every dollar that men earn. There is simply not enough money earned, saved or invested to take women through their longer lifetimes.


Still not convinced? How about 10 more reasons to hire over 40 workers:

1.) Older workers have lower absenteeism rates than younger employees.

2.) Older workers have lower turnover rates than younger employees.

3.) Older employees are generally more loyal employees.

4.) Older employees have less job injuries than younger employees.

5.) Older employees are less likely to steal from your company.

6.) Older employees bring a wealth of experience with them to work.

7.) Older employees generally have a strong work ethic.

8.) Older workers generally find satisfaction with and enjoy their work.

9.) Older workers want to work, at least part-time, even after they retire.

10.) You will one day be an older worker.

STILL not convinced?  How about some words from the Harvard Business Review?