Older employees: Clichés vs. Reality

Older employees: Clichés vs. Reality

„Older employees are expensive. They can’t keep up. They are inflexible.“ These are some of the prejudices encountered by many jobseekers age 50 and older. These prejudices also play a role when companies are looking to cut costs. But is there any truth to these clichés? Here we examine three such prejudices.

Prejudice 1: Older employees are expensive.

First let's talk about the money: It is a fact that older workers receive higher pay on average than younger ones, as their accumulated work experience is reflected in a higher salary. But the difference is not nearly as great as some think: Comparing the median pay of workers aged 40 - 49 in Switzerland against that of workers age 50+, the average monthly salary difference is 230 francs for men and 102 francs for women. This was documented in the 2015 Swiss Pay Structure Survey conducted by the Federal Statistical Office. The statistics show that the largest pay increases take place before age 40, and that after age 50 there is only a minor increase.

Social security costs are another factor. Older employees are more expensive, as pension fund retirement credits increase in steps. For 45-year-olds, this amounts to at least 15 percent of pay, but 18 percent for a 55 year-old. Factoring in that the employer pays half of that, the difference in social security costs is 1.5 percent. Applying the median salary in Switzerland of 6,427 francs, which means annual salary of 52,449 subject to social security contributions, this amounts to only 65.50 francs per month.

The facts: The difference between genders is greater than that between age groups.

Are older employees more expensive? Yes, a little bit. But the difference between the sexes are more significant, across all occupations. The median salary for women over 50 is still approximately 400 francs less than the median salary for men in the 30 - 39 age group. Nobody would ever get the idea of employing only women because they statistically cost less on payroll.

Salary costs

Tips for employers:

Do you sometimes feel like you are no longer getting the right value for what you pay an employee? Perhaps instead of an age issue, the cause lies in years of routine. It could be that the employee needs a change of pace, like working on an exciting new project. Or would he prefer to do without the stress of a leadership role and be glad to switch over to a non-managerial specialist role. Or would your employee even be willing to take on an 80 percent or 60 percent position for the next few years to improve work/life balance and work motivation simultaneously. Together, you can come up with individual solutions that are right for both parties.

Tips for employees:

Has your salary steadily risen over the past 30 years? Do not take this situation for granted, for it means you have corresponding obligations. Increasing salary requires greater performance. So think about how you could increase your own market value, such as in the area of continuing education. Propose to your employer that you take targeted training sessions or provide coaching to younger employees. These not only benefit the company, but your reputation as well, enabling you to demonstrate how you are worth the money.

Prejudice 2: Older people can’t keep up.

Are older workers more frequently off sick? According to data from the Federal Statistical Office from the year 2016, absenteeism among employees age 55 and older is slightly above the average: 3.9 percent, as opposed to 3.0. However, age is just one of several factors, including gender, nationality, industry, company size and hierarchy level, which play a major role. Illness and accident absenteeism among construction workers, for example, is nearly three times as high as among freelancers, a group that includes such professionals as lawyers and architects.

The facts: Age is just one of many factors behind sick leave.

Are older employees unable to keep up? Older employees are in fact more frequently on sick leave, increasing the number of days absent. However, other factors play a role, such as personal life situation and fitness, which are just as important as age. A physically fit 58 year-old who bikes to work every morning will presumably be less likely to catch a cold than an exhausted young father who is regularly exposed to the viruses passed round at the preschool group. Incidentally, it is performance that counts, not days in the office.

Ability to work under pressure

Tips for employers:

According to experts from the canton of Aargau, professional occupational health management can slash absenteeism by up to 50 percent. This is a particularly valuable measure for older employees. Provide targeted health-enhancing support for this group, for example by introducing workplace ergonomics and becoming attuned to industry-typical stress levels. Above all: be sure to show appreciation for your older employees. For people who enjoy their job perform better, both mentally and physically.

Tips for employees:

Keep yourself fit by doing regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Everyone experiences illness or accident from time to time, but many diseases can prevented or their onset at least delayed by adopting a healthy lifestyle. And a healthy body recovers faster than a neglected one. The same goes for mental health, so keep your eye out for things going on in your industry, keeping abreast of major trends. This will enable you to have an informed opinion in the right situations, demonstrating how you are by no means „over the hill“.

Prejudice 3: Older people are inflexible.

Everyone knows or has known an older person at their company who, whenever something comes along, always says, „Forget it. We tried that 20 years ago and didn’t work, and it won't work now“. It can be annoying to hear such observations, but they may be worth listening to. Then there's the stereotypical young, go-getter just out of college who knows everything – in theory. Older employees can be as valuable as gold, in projects and changes processes in particular. Their wealth of experience often enables them to foresee potential stumbling blocks and avoid risks. This only works however if both employer and employee have a positive attitude.

The facts: Flexibility has nothing to do with age.

Flexibility is not an age-related trait but rather a personal attitude that chiefly has to do with one's character. Some 63-year-olds are extremely curious and open-minded, while some recent graduates apprentices are mentally set in their ways. The question of flexibility can be looked at from a different perspective. For example, a 55 year-old with a 25 year-old manager has more experience to draw upon, being at a different point in life. Older employees are more in tune with the mindset of older customers – a growing demographic – sharing their concerns, nostalgia and feelings associated with the past in a manner that can be of crucial importance. One of many reasons why you should take these employees seriously.

Development

Tips for employers:

Be farsighted and learn to value the perspective older employees bring to your business. Even if it's not easy for you at first, as there are certain barriers to identifying with them. Mixed-aged teams can be formed to blend the fresh ideas of younger employees with the experience of older ones in ideal fashion, stimulating interesting discussions. Talking is what employees want who have come to be burned out or disillusioned, whatever their age. In many cases, a negative attitude stems from a feeling of not being taken seriously anymore. Reward experienced staff with continuing education opportunities, and clearly communicate your thanks to them for a job well done.

Tips for employees:

The world keeps changing ever-faster – this is just a fact. There no sense in trying to struggle against the tide, wasting precious energy. Swim with the current rather than against it. This will keep you from turning into an anti-change curmudgeon. You don’t even have to open a Snapchat account. But you can let your understudy show you how social networks work. Find out about new technologies and work methods. Astonish your colleagues by being the first to know about an industry trend. Go to trade shows and presentations. Every time you do such activities, it conveys the message: „Sure, I may be retiring in a few years, but until then I'm all-in.“