Boomers are stuck in their jobs because companies don’t want to hire them, but savvy CEOs who do can access an untapped oasis

Older workers are often overlooked in a corporate environment that places a premium on youth, and yet employees are increasingly working well past retirement age—and it could be a good thing for CEOs after all.

Although many people in the U.S. have centered their working lives around the goal of retiring before their twilight years—possibly in a beachside town in the tropics—many are staying in the workforce longer, for better or worse. One-in-five Americans over the age of 65, or about 19%, were employed in 2023, according to a December survey by Pew Research Center. That’s significantly higher than the 11% of people in the same category who were employed in 1987, according to Pew.

Behind this trend are two completely opposing motives, explained Columbia Business School Professor Stephan Meier. Either workers are forced to work because they don’t have the means to retire, or they are comfortable but they want to continue contributing in whatever capacity they can. 

The latter, despite being in their mid-sixties or older, are usually still healthy and productive thanks in part to advances in modern medicine, said Meier. These workers are motivated and can contribute to a company’s success in many ways, even at an advanced age.

“They can bring something to the team that younger workers just can’t because of their expertise,” Meier told Fortune.

At the same time, older workers are often stigmatized by coworkers or when they are looking for a new job. A survey from Resume Builder found that 34% of hiring managers were concerned about hiring people older than 60. Older workers are sometimes labeled slow or ignorant, but Meier said these stereotypes are usually false and need to be done away with.

“I think that’s missing, that they actually bring a lot of attributes to the job,” he said.

Having a worker with decades of experience at a company or in a certain industry is not just beneficial for the company, but also for younger employees, said Christine Porath, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Through mentoring and contributing to training for new employees, older workers can help the company and its employees get a more informed view of their jobs and career paths. These kinds of contributions can help older workers as well, Porath said. 

“They get a boost, a sense of vitality and learning and growing, which is useful, because we know that a sense of thriving increases their performance and productivity,” Porath told Fortune.

To help accommodate aging workers, some companies are turning to “flextirement” options, in which an older employee works fewer hours but can still add to the company with their experience. This arrangement can be a win-win for both the company and the worker, said Meier.

“You might not work exactly the same amount of hours, which is a good thing for companies as well, because they can tap into the experience of those older workers without taking them on for like, full time positions,” he said. 

No matter what the approach, companies cannot afford to ignore older workers, Porath added. People aged 65 and over are projected to make up 8.6% of the labor force by 2032, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To help this growing segment of the workforce add to companies in a productive way, executives need to give them some attention, she said.

“Looking for ways to embrace them, value them, appreciate them, recognize them, and re-engage them if they’re feeling like they don’t feel a sense of belonging or community, I think is a really valuable investment,” she said.

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