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Act your age! Use your years of experience to fight ageism in the workplace

Here are some smart tips to treat age as an asset, not a hindrance.

Act your age! Use your years of experience to fight ageism in the workplace
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock; Studio Doros/iStock]

Businesses are increasingly realizing the cultural and economic benefits of employing a diverse and inclusive workforce–and are making strides in replacing discriminatory and outdated human resources practices. But ageism is one form of bias that is still very much present in the modern-day workplace and it is disadvantaging companies and employees alike.

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Even though research upends the common assumptions and myths about older workers, many companies have been slow to implement practices that embrace the experience, merit, and value that older workers bring the table. According to AARP’s Multicultural Work and Jobs Study, 61% of workers over the age of 45 have witnessed or experienced age discrimination.

With technology disruption at the forefront of business growth strategies, seasoned business leaders are often passed over for up-and-coming, digital-native millennials and Generation Z professionals because there is an underlying assumption that older leaders are not capable of implementing the latest trends.

There’s no denying that innovations like social media, data analytics, cloud technology, and mobile solutions have influenced work culture and revolutionized processes across all departments of an organization. But anyone who’s been in business long enough knows that the flashy bells and whistles of technology don’t rival the human touchpoints offered by traditional soft skills, such as teamwork, critical thinking, positive attitude, and strong work ethic. That might be why workers over the age of 55 continue to drive job growth in the U.S., accounting for about half of all employment gains in 2018 according to data analysis from The Liscio Report.

Here are some ways that seasoned professionals can conquer the test of time and use their valuable wisdom to step into leadership roles.

Strive for lifelong learning

The concept of lifelong learning has been promoted in academia for years now and its benefits are now being largely touted in professional settings. As lifelong learning increasingly becomes a corporate priority, mature workers can disprove the oft held belief that they’re not tech-savvy, trainable, or adaptable by consistently taking advantage of opportunities to reskill and upskill.

According to a report from Pew Research, 65% of American workers who engaged in training reported that the experience helped them expand their professional network, and 47% said that the extra training helped them move up within their current company.

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Accentuate problem-solving skills

People and companies are always going to have challenges, and a chief function of business is to identify and solve them. At the end of the day, our customers and clients don’t inherently care about business growth strategies or the products we sell. They care about whether our products and services can solve problems and ease pain points along the customer journey.

Unlike millennials and Generation Z, mature workers did not always have smart technology and search engines at their fingertips to solve everyday problems. Instead, they had to think creatively when a roadblock stood in the way. In an Adobe-commissioned global Creative Problem-Solving Study, 85% of educators reported that creative problem-solving skills are in high demand for senior-level and higher-paying careers. And there’s more good news for troubleshooters who happen to be less tech-savvy: 75% of the polled educators agreed that the roles and functions requiring problem-solving skills are less likely to be replaced by automation.

If there’s anything constant in the digital age, it’s the demand for creative problem-solvers. And the ability to creatively solve problems, without depending on technology, could help give mature workers a leg up over their younger counterparts.

Mentor and network

Mentoring has been a strategy used to help junior professionals make the transition from schooling to work or to move on to the next level of their careers. Traditionally, the younger professional has generally been the beneficiary. But modern mentoring is shifting the dynamic to offer benefits to both parties

Not only can mentoring help mature professionals enhance their capacity as leaders and trainers, but it can also help them future-proof their network by connecting them with up-and-coming professionals. It also exposes them to new skills, mindsets, and ethos. Research from the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) found that “reverse mentoring” promotes new digital skills, innovation, and positive changes in company culture.

Emphasize loyalty and longevity

While mature workers are largely perceived as lacking in the technology department, they might have an advantage when it comes to longevity and commitment. According to research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, turnover costs companies significantly more than healthcare. The research also found that one of the biggest cost savings in hiring older employees is their tendency to be more loyal to the companies they work for. A Pew Research survey found that 76% of older employees had worked at the same company for at least five years—more than any other age category.

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As companies begin to realize the cost savings of employee retention, mature workers can distinguish themselves from their younger counterparts by emphasizing loyalty and longevity.

Treat age as an asset, not a hindrance

Having a multigenerational workforce offers organizations a competitive advantage, as each age group offers different views, perspectives and ideas that can help a company grow.

According to research on the human life cycle conducted by eminent Yale psychologist Dan Levinson, people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s focus on autonomy, pursuing ambitions and demonstrating competence while those in their 50s and beyond want to leave behind a mark on their communities. This means that older workers are primed to focus on fine-tuning procedures, policies, and methods so that they can become more sustainable and stand up to the test of time. Society tends to expect less of workers as they age. But imagine the productivity gains that businesses would experience if they made the best use of mature workers.

The business imperative for engaging and hiring mature workers is clear. Being “seasoned,” “mature,” or “older” in the workplace does not need to be a career killer or a ticking time bomb. As a seasoned and mature professional, your high level of experience can be the key that unlocks doors to new opportunities–and leads you to the next steps in building your legacy.


Sunshine Farzan is an award-winning marketing veteran and dynamic career coach with nearly two decades of global integrated marketing expertise to help executives design personal branding strategies that support corporate growth objectives and achieve omnichannel engagement.

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