The 50-plus generation - so-called silver workers – can help solve the talent scarcity problem. Several older workers spoke with us about their experiences in the workforce and how they’re building their own future.

This article is authored by Mara Stefan, SVP of Thought Leadership.

Talking with a colleague recently, I was asked if I was in my "third act". I didn't take the question personally as he had been remarking on the successful longevity of my career. But it did make me pause. In my 50's and a long way from retirement, I’m still loving what I do and can’t imagine not working. The pandemic has changed many people's views on working, though, and I wonder what others in similar situations (over 50) think about work now? 

The question relates to our mission within Adecco Group’s Thought Leadership group in preparing the company for the future of work. Of the many trends we’re seeing, a growing issue is talent scarcity. Could welcoming older workers like me, who we call 'Silver Workers', play a key part in alleviating this challenge?

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines working age as 20 to 64. And according to its estimates, people aged 65 and older will be 54% of populations in OECD countries in 2050, up from 14% a century earlier. This growth is down to two factors: lower birth rates and longer life spans. And more critically in terms of work, people who are living longer are healthier and fitter than previous generations.

What's more, it's much cheaper to retain and train existing older workers than to hire new employees. As our “Future-Proofing the Workforce” report found, the decision to reskill and redeploy instead of laying off and rehiring could save corporations up to $136,000 per employee.

How useful is it then for businesses to consider an arbitrary age to be the ideal for retirement? Are they unwittingly, and unnecessarily, stoking talent scarcity?

Silver Workers speak out...


To gain a more personal perspective on the issue, I recently spoke with several Silver Workers, in both The Adecco Group and LHH. They were Helene Cavalli, VP, Thought Leadership & Customer Advocacy for LHH; Reuben Cohen, Managing Director, North America, LHH International Center for Executive Options, and Adam Roscoe, VP, Corporate Communications, The Adecco Group. 

Of the three, Reuben is the oldest, at 69. He is trim and in obvious good health. “I love my work and can't imagine retiring. When it comes to my age, I'm out there with it. I'm a high energy guy and I use it as a point of levity to help people imagine what second and third acts can look like," he said. “For example, sometimes I can't remember things. But that was as true 30 years ago. Now I have an excuse! Be that as it may, I sure know how to make things happen and am more intelligent about how I work than ever."

Helene is 58 - fit, confident and wears her hair in its natural grey. “I went grey early in life. One year during my 40’s I decided to stop coloring it, but the response was not positive. Though I was in a leadership role, I felt I’d turned invisible,” she said. “Years later when the pandemic hit, I decided to live more sustainably, an aspect of which was to embrace my natural color. Now,  post pandemic, more women have stopped dying their hair and it's viewed as kind of fun.”

Adam, now 63, on the other hand speaks of personally being suddenly let go, the shock from eight years ago still evident in his voice. His hair is silver, but as a man, it's never been an issue for him as it had been for Helene, showing how sexist social norms are woven into our experiences of ageing. Yet Adam had his own challenges to deal with.

“I'd worked for a Fortune 500 company for 14 years when one day my boss said it was time for us to part ways. I was 55 and to me it was quite unexpected,” he said. “Then the outplacement guy told me he wasn’t going to find anything for me. I sent out 120 resumes, only 10% bothered to answer with even a ‘No, thanks’. I maybe got five interviews, none of which led to anything. I had to create the next opportunity on my own.”

And share their accumulated wisdom


I asked Adam what advice he’d give a younger version of himself.

“Keep nurturing your professional network outside of the specific company and job. Once you don’t have the currency of a big brand behind you, you will have to depend on that network being strong and current,” Adam said. “And keep upskilling with certifiable skills. Spend 10% of your career on it. Over 35 years I built a good career profile and expected my CV to work for me when I needed it most. But when you reach a certain age, cumulative success in the past does not guarantee equal success in a changing future. What I valued as `experience` came across as ‘too expensive’ and `old`.”

“I find that upskilling is also about learning new hard skills, to stretch yourself mentally and physically,” said Helene. “It helps demonstrate you’re taking an active role in combating any bias that may exist about older workers. The onus is on us,” she adds, “To make sure that we’re bridging the age gap through our actions, both at work and in life. Over the pandemic I did just that.”

In answer to my question, Helene explained, “I earned several firearm certifications, including pistol instructor. My students are much younger, but believe me, they don’t see age, only my expertise.”

Challenges And Opportunities To Advance Equality In The World Of Work

To achieve a truly inclusive world of work, we must strive for equality and equity.

 

The environment may be evolving


It is perhaps telling that both Helene and Adam focus on the individual, rather than on steps businesses could take to foster more inclusive environments for older workers. I asked Reuben, who of the three works closest with clients seeking new opportunities, whether he’s seeing any structural changes in corporations regarding older talent.  

“I can’t speak to that. But I do know since the start of the pandemic, more and more executives in their 60's with deep experience in major, established firms are re-evaluating their careers,” he said. “And what we see is that they are switching to smaller, growth-oriented companies that value their experience, wisdom, and particularly their leadership acumen, in navigating through complexity and change. As a result,” he adds, “We’re in the most vibrant job market I’ve witnessed in a very long time. Better yet, we're seeing less age bias than ever before.”

In one conversation, these Silver Workers thoroughly debunk the myth that older people don’t have the necessary stamina or time to keep up. Speaking for me, now that I’m an empty nester, I have more time and energy to dedicate to work. Having older children now gives me perspective to better focus on my job than even in my 40's. 

Four generations, one workplace


And finally, there is one more trend to consider. For the first time ever there are four generations in the workforce. We've got Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers all working at the same time, many of whom bring different perspectives and ideas to the table. Organizations could unleash tremendous untapped potential by recognizing the unique attributes of each generation, ensuring each is valued and represented, and encouraging collaboration between all of them.

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