Older workers coming into their own
March 1, 2022 | View PDF
Q: What are my chances of finding work over age 60?
A: Amid the disruptive loss of jobs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been one counterbalancing force: An urgent demand for older professionals to return to work from retirement or a career break.
Employers have historically viewed this group of potential employees with skepticism, a perception that their skills have deteriorated or become obsolete or that they are overqualified, require long ramp-up times, lack commitment to the job, or are simply too old.
These concerns have faded during the crisis. Employers are recognizing the robustness this work group has demonstrated all along: Institutional knowledge, education, experience, mature perspective, stable life stage, dedication, loyalty, a solid work ethic and enthusiasm for contributions.
While well-versed employees may desire a more flexible schedule, they often have been shown to be just as productive as their younger counterparts. Today’s senior workforce may currently be in a management position and simply want less demanding work hours, or they could be looking for a career change after years in one industry.
Monica Parker turned 50 during the pandemic. While she had a comfortable leadership role with a nonprofit, there was a nagging feeling that it was time for something different. She has found in the labor market of the early 2020s, there is still opportunity for workers to choose what they want to do.
“I’m a lawyer by trade, but more recently worked for an education nonprofit as its associate executive director. After turning 50, I decided to move into the diversity and inclusion space,” Parker recalls in a story on the AARP website.
Some older workers need to work past 65 because of financial reasons, such as for health insurance that is more affordable than buying it on the private market or to extend income potential prior to retirement. Personal benefits of improved mental function and keeping relationships intact wards off isolation. Working later into a career benefits employers as well. Seasoned employees typically have a greater sense of responsibility, are dependable, teachable, mature and conscientious. Older workers also provide different perspectives in the workplace.
Those remaining in the workforce after eligible retirement age benefit the economy. Older people who are unemployed for decades and live into their 90s often end up on public assistance, which puts a strain on government programs. They’ve outlived their financial means. Adults who remain working longer can improve their fiscal stability and increase their Social Security payout when delaying drawing of benefits. Working after expected retirement age is also valuable for society, because it helps older adults feel needed and involved, rather than secluded or forgotten.
Even though there are many social and economic benefits to working, an important one is that it also keeps people thriving. Older adults have a lower chance of disabilities if they remain physically capable. Moreover, those with stronger mental acuity tend to have better overall brain function than those who don’t engage in regular mental activity.
Liron Sinvani, MD, a hospitalist with a geriatrics focus, points out that having a paid job can also give older adults a sense of purpose. This can offer an added wellness boost to seniors’ health. Despite these benefits, Sinvani notes that finding work after 65 years old might prove difficult. Older adults face a number of challenges such as ageism, and lack of resources available for job seekers.
Geropsychologist Maggie Syme, PhD helps others overcome stereotypical ideas they have about older people. And Vonetta Dotson, PhD, an associate professor of psychology, writes, “Many see older adults as just adults who have gotten older, and they don’t necessarily appreciate all the biological, cognitive, social and psychological complexities of older individuals”.
During the pandemic, in the nursing field, states have worked to expedite license renewals, allowed nurses to practice across state lines, and engaged them in short programs to refresh their skills.
In the technology sector, programmers with a knowledge of COBOL, the decades-old mainframe programming language, are being called up because complex computer systems run on older mainframes with billions of lines of code, and it’s not uncommon to find COBOL buried under layers of newer code.
Corporate “returnships” are programs with professional development sessions, cohort models, and transitional mentoring support easing the reintegration to the workforce. Companies tap high-potential professionals who have taken career breaks for eldercare, childcare, or health issues. Some programs also target people who are “unretiring” and veterans transitioning to civilian roles.
Continuing to work enables people to maintain independence in their aging years. While 56 percent of workers age 55 and older quit jobs in the last 10 months, citing the pandemic as their reason for leaving, others of the 1,250 surveyed quit for better pay, more joy, or a chance to be their own boss.
Reflect on if your job is still rewarding in mentally, physically and social ways. Do you feel engaged, challenged and enriched? If so, keep working. If not, consider a career break, pivoting to a new role, reduced hours or full retirement.