A new lease of life for older workers?

Published on December 06, 2017

With 38 million members and an audience of 115 million people, AARP provides advocacy and support for Americans aged 50 and over. Scott Frisch, its EVP & Chief Operating Officer, looks at the challenges and opportunities for older people in the workplace.

Scott-FRISCH_200x200.jpgWhat are the aims of AARP?

Scott Frisch: Our purpose is to empower people to choose how they live as they age, and we focus on three pillars – their health, finances and personal fulfilment. Being 50 or 60 today is about growth, not decline, and new opportunities, not just challenges.

Do you think businesses are paying sufficient attention to older workers?

S.F.: The business community is not doing enough, but is starting to move in the right direction –partly because of a demographic shift and partly for economic reasons. In the U.S., 10,000 people a day are turning 65 and about a third of the workforce is over 50. In terms of the economy, the direct and indirect activity of people aged50-plus in the U.S. would make them the world’s third largest economy behind the U.S. and China. So, it’s in the business community’s interest to help the older worker be successful, as it will drive the overall economy.

What are the expectations and aspirations among these seniors?

S.F.: Older people are working longer either because they can’t afford to retire or because they want to work. But their aspirations are no different to those of younger people. I think every employee wants to feel valued, part of something and relevant; these are not age-specific attributes. Every employee has those same desires and I believe it’s unfair to say that someone who is 25 or 65 is going to have different core values about their work. In fact, I believe there are lot of myths surrounding seniors in the workplace.

What are the common myths about older workers?

S.F.: Firstly, that compared to younger employees, they won’t stay as long and that they cost more. None of this is true. The average tenure among Millennials is only three years, according to executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, while the concept of tenure-based pay is from a bygone era, at least in the U.S.

Meanwhile, employers offering a traditional pension plan have dropped from 50% to 5% between 1998 and 2015. What’s more, healthcare costs have risen more slowly for employees aged 50-64 than for those aged 25-49 as seniors are taking better care of themselves. Another myth is that older people are more interested in coasting along rather than learning. But according to studies, 8 out of 10 workers aged 50-64 say that learning is an essential part of their job. Finally, there’s a myth that older people can’t keep up with younger staff, but studies shown that productivity actually increases with age.

What can seniors bring to an organization?

S.F.: From a qualitative standpoint, older workers can make a unique contribution based on their experience, their professionalism, their work ethic, their lower turnover rate and their institutional knowledge. And the important thing you are missing when there are no older workers is their ability to act as mentors to the next generation. The concept of experience has been lost, yet I know people who are better at their jobs, 25 or 30 years into their careers, than they were after 5 or 10. The key point is that people should be judged by their competence and contribution in the job, and not by their age.

How are seniors coping in today’s workplace, and how could they be supported?

S.F.: I think they’re coping well and, as they represent such a large part of the workforce, the Baby Boomers and Generation X are pushing the business community to adapt to them. As for support, that tends to mean benefits. And here, there needs to be a change; companies need to stop looking at age, and start thinking instead of life stage. Telecommuting, or flexible working, is a benefit that seniors appreciate. But it’s helpful if you’re 25, 45 or 65.

Whether you are a young parent with a sick child, a Generation X with an ageing parent, or an older worker taking care of a spouse, the opportunity to provide care is an ageless benefit. That said, a phased retirement program is clearly a benefit for older workers. For me, in all these areas, the needle is going to move. But the change is not going to happen overnight.


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Read Scott Frisch's full biography.

Scott Frisch will participate on the Panel Discussion focused on Seniors: “Designing Life Through the Ages” that will take place on October 16 at 4:15 pm London Time.