Senior leadership took on a new meaning as the oldest person to be elected President of the United States took the oath of office. In 1946, the year that Donald Trump was born, the average annual salary was $2,500 and ENIAC, the first programmable, general-purpose computer was introduced. Trump’s proposed cabinet is also made up of people who have seen many advances in the course of their lifetimes and are technically eligible to receive social security.
Is this good news? According to AARP, America's workforce is getting older. By 2022, about 35 percent of U.S. employees will be over 50. So, is the Trump administration a symbol of a more accepting workplace?
This is not political commentary. This article is about leadership, the older generation and employment.
I recently had coffee with an executive who has been unemployed for over two years. Not by choice, he is now doing consulting work. He believes that his age is a barrier to his getting hired for a permanent full-time position. How much does age actually affect work prospects? The U.S. Equal Employment Commission in 2014 found a 15 percent increase over the previous decade of age discrimination in the workplace. Research conducted by AARP found that two thirds of workers between the ages of 45 to 74 had seen or experienced ageism. According to one of their senior attorneys, "Age discrimination is the last form of discrimination that we are willing to accept. It's not viewed as wrong or as serious as other forms of discrimination."
Donald Trump is considered a baby boomer — individuals born between 1946 and 1964. This generation is also retiring and causing a “brain drain” for companies. In the U.S., roughly 10,000 people reach retirement age every day. And though not everyone who turns 62 or 65 retires right away, enough do that some companies are finding they are unprepared for the situation they are facing. One of the ways companies are addressing this problem, as it is with the executive I talked to, is to hire consultants to solve a pressing problem or work on a specific time-critical project. Although some boomers appreciate the flexibility, many others want, or need, full-time employment.
In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Sloan Foundation, 1,913 human resource professionals were asked what companies look for in older workers. One of the key responses was that older workers possess more knowledge and skills than their younger colleagues. Trump’s team has both been criticized and admired for its economic profile because it includes multiple billionaires but most don’t have much actual experience in government. However, for the purpose of this article, that is part of the good news. Older workers can retool and retrain to do jobs that may differ from the ones that they held previously. Although some may need to keep working because their retirement nest eggs were eroded during the recession, many older adults want to continue to work because they feel, as I do, that they have something significant to contribute.
According to research conducted by Harris Interactive, a desire to keep working is expressed even among some of the most highly paid executives. 51 percent of executives earning $100,000 or more a year state that they plan to work after retirement, with just 18 percent anticipating going to full-time retirement. Non-monetary reasons that older workers plan to continue to work include: work makes them feel useful, they like being productive and helping others, and they find their jobs intrinsically enjoyable.
It is time to rethink how we hire and retain older workers. To remain competitive in the marketplace, companies must fill critical positions with qualified, talented people without regard to age. And older workers should be confident in their ability to “get the job done.” Perhaps this is a note of optimism. Trump summed up his future in these few words, "Anyone who thinks my story is anywhere near over is sadly mistaken." I believe that is true for many of us.