What are we doing to support older-worker learning? They want to learn, too!

Older adults, who are traditional retirement age, are no longer an invisible segment of the workforce. In a N.Y. Times article titled “Disproving Beliefs About the Economy and Aging,” the author, Christopher Farrell, dispels three myths commonly held about older adults:

Myth No. 1: Older adults don’t work, so they weigh down the economy. Old-523086_1280

Myth No. 2: Older workers are not productive.

Myth No. 3: Older workers are blocking younger workers from the job market.

On the contrary, many older adults want to work, are very productive, and they are adding to the economy, not weighing it down. They are doing work that younger workers can’t or won’t do. Farrell writes:

…millions of older Americans are staying employed or looking for work well into the traditional retirement years. There are a variety of reasons: Boomers are well educated and healthier than previous generations. Work is less physically taxing in a service-dominated economy. More older people need an income to supplement slim savings.

In addition to these reasons, I believe a major motivator for boomers to continue working well past traditional retirement age is their drive to find meaning in their lives. It’s this need for fulfillment and to contribute to society that keeps many people over 65 in the workplace and even building new careers and businesses. Certainly this is related to their generation’s level of education and health. It’s easier to seek personal fulfillment when you no longer have to worry about putting food on the table or sending kids to college.

With 8,000 boomers becoming 65 every month, the implications for workplace learning are staggering. The popular attention to Millenials is good but if we don’t also assess the learning needs of boomers in the workplace, we will be marginalizing a large generation of wisdom and experience that can contribute greatly to the productivity and success of our organizations. And they want to continue learning, too. Becoming smarter and better is intrinsically motivating to boomers.

Much has been written about the adult learner with the conclusion that they can be a valuable resource to organizations. Today, companies need to think of seniors as a significant part of the workforce. We need to find ways to facilitate their learning just as we should be doing with younger employees.

Managers need to refrain from adopting a fixed mindset with respect to older workers, assuming that they can’t learn anymore, that they are frozen in time. Rather, managers should view older workers with the same growth mindset that they need to take with all workers, supporting their learning, performance improvement, and contribution to organizational results.

What do you think about the implications of seniors in the workforce? How do they/will they affect organizational learning, performance improvement, and results?