Age is just a number … for your business’s bottom line

Successful business owners know that hiring experienced workers is simply good business sense. America’s older workforce brings a multitude of benefits and tremendous value to the table.  So, if searching for a solid return on investment, you’d be wise to hire more seasoned employees.

Experience — gained from work and life — gives older workers many of the vital skills employers exceedingly value, such as solid teamwork, commitment and collaboration. Age 50-plus workers have rich employment histories, varied experiences and expertise, and work tenures that speak to their dedication and resilience. These older workers should have the opportunity to be judged on their merits rather than their age.

Just like other forms of diversity, multigenerational workforces are more productive, better performing and more innovative. Studies show businesses enjoy higher relative productivity when combining older and younger workers on teams. Both sets of employees also enjoy collaborating with one other. When surveyed, older workers responded with appreciation for their younger colleagues’ tech skills, creativity and fresh perspectives. Conversely, greener employees value older coworkers’ wisdom and experience.

As the youngest of the baby boom generation turns 55 this year, it may be easy to mistakenly dismiss their potential. But these folks — a whopping 76 million of them — have so much to offer businesses across all sectors. Here in New Jersey, more than 21% of all adults age 65-plus are still in the workforce. Additionally, millennials will start turning 40 — the definition of an “older” worker under federal law — in 2021. The growing share of older workers deserves to be treated as serious candidates, not only for their own benefit, but because they deliver greater success in business.

So, why are some companies reluctant to consider older workers? The answer is unfortunate: age discrimination. A 2018 AARP study found that three in five older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination on the job. Another recent study found that more than half of workers 50 and older have been prematurely pushed out of their long-term jobs.

It’s been said that ageism is the last socially acceptable prejudice out there. So we’re heartened that state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) recently introduced legislation taking on New Jersey’s archaic antidiscrimination law that currently fails to safeguard older employees from bias in the workplace. The Senate bill has already passed unanimously through the Senate Labor Committee.

The new bill:

  • Eliminates current law that allows employers not to hire or promote workers over 70 years old.
  • Closes a loophole for governmental employers that allows them to require an employee to retire when they reach a certain age.
  • Gets rid of a law that allows institutions of higher education to require tenured employees to retire when they turn 70.
  • Amends the current law against discrimination to ensure that an employee who is unlawfully required to retire because of age has available all remedies provided by law. Unlike every other form of discrimination, those illegally forced to retire are currently limited to filing a complaint with the attorney general and have relief limited to reinstatement with back pay and interest.

Such safeguards are needed now more than ever — with Americans opting to remain longer on the job. Those over 65 constitute the fastest-growing age bracket in the workforce … yet they’re the least protected. Overlooking this skilled workforce is not just bad for older workers. Employers who are taking the lead on building a multigenerational workforce are gaining a competitive edge — harnessing the decades of experience and advanced skillsets of older workers, while also benefiting from low training costs.

If you aren’t already, it is time to consider older workers as complementary to your business and team. If not, your competition surely will.

Lavelle Jones is AARP New Jersey state president.