“The point is, not only can we not afford to retire – we don’t particularly want to.”

At midlife, we’re more knowledgeable, confident and more valuable than ever. So why is it that the older employee is less desirable?

Three years ago, when Salima Moses, 54, lost her job as a marketing specialist for an NGO, she never realised how difficult it would be to re-enter the formal job market. ‘I have years of experience in the field and a wealth of contacts, but it seems HR executives aren’t interested,’ she says. ‘Most organisations are reluctant to offer employment to people over 60. I’m still supporting my adult children  – and I don’t have savings or a pension. How am I supposed to survive?’

Salima’s story is not unique. According to one Canadian report (Retirement Income Strategies and Expectations), an alarming number of members of Generation X — more than a quarter — haven’t saved for the future.

The report explains that people born between 1965 and 1979 are facing an uphill battle. ‘With the rising cost of living — coupled with school-aged children, their own student loans or aging parents to attend to — Generation X [members are] being stretched beyond their financial limits in many cases, which hasn’t left much room for contributions to their retirement savings,’ the report says.

The point is, not only can we not afford to retire – we don’t particularly want to. ‘Generation Xers want to stay active, physically healthy, socially connected and engaged,’ says American financier Marcy Keckler. ‘The majority plan to work in retirement, not only for financial reasons but to remain socially engaged and intellectually stimulated.’

But will it be that simple? It’s no secret that youth is celebrated in our culture. Every day, we are bombarded with images and messages that suggest a youthful appearance is more valued than wisdom and experience.  And when it comes to the workplace, our career systems, pay systems, and recruitment and assessment systems don’t favour hiring people over 50.  

However, our aging populations are growing – and if HR managers continue to look at age as a negative quality, the workforce will face major issues in the near future.

By 2035, there will be more people over 65 years than people under the age of 18. (78 million compared to 76.4 million).

In 2020, 78% of older workers saw or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. – AARP survey 

By 2025, 25% of workers in the US and t UK will over the age of 55.

What is Agesim and why is it a problem?

Ageism, a coin termed by American psychiatrist Robert Butler in 1969, refers to discrimination against people based on a single trait: older age. ‘I have a great deal of knowledge about my industry – plus I’m more reliable and committed than my younger counterparts,’ says one Gen X designer. ‘I would like to feel I’m valued by my company – but instead I feel invisible.’

In the workplace, ageism occurs when:

  1. Courses, continued education and workshops are automatically offered to younger employees.
  2. Older employees are overlooked for challenging assignments.
  3. Older employees are left out of client meetings or company activities.
  4. Disparaging comments and remarks about age are rife.
  5. Older employees are passed over for raises and promotions.

However, Steve Butler, author of The Midlife Review: A Guide to Work, Wealth and Wellbeing, says ageism should be squashed because age-diverse teams can be the perfect way to future-proof a business. ‘Under one roof you can tap into the experiences, views, knowledge and creativity of a complete cross section of society,’ he says. And he’s not the only one to highlight the pros of the older employee.

According to the Harvard Business Review, scientific evidence shows that while mental stamina generally declines after the age of 30, knowledge and expertise keep increasing even beyond the age of 80.  There is also evidence that when it comes to learning new things, there is simply no age limit. The more intellectually engaged people remain when they are older, the more they will contribute to the labour market.

Why companies should value mature employees

  1. You are likely to have better leadership skills and stronger communication skills than your younger colleagues.
  2. Where a recent college graduate might be most concerned about moving up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible, you are more interested in loyalty and stability.
  3. You know more people in your industry and have a stronger network than your younger counterparts.
  4. You are more likely to have a patient, collaborative nature, without needing to prove yourself.
  5. You can offer mentorships to younger employees and colleagues.

As world-renown scientist Stephen Hawking says, ‘Work gives you purpose and represents an opportunity to give value to others and the community; it gives you a network of friends and associates to be with; and it gives you something to do with your intellectual and physical energy. Why would we want to retire if we love our work?’

Read about Pro-aging in Hollywood, here

Or How to Embrace Aging, here