Over 50 and looking for a job? Here’s what you need to know about age and work

by Guest Author, Cheryl Winokur Munk

With the bear market hitting retirement portfolios hard, bonds performing as poorly as stocks, and inflation raging, what seemed like a sure retirement income may be more of a pipe dream for many older Americans who had left the workforce, or planned to soon retire. The economic situation is sending more retirement-age workers back into the labor force. A recent CNBC survey found a majority of retirees would consider returning to work. But finding the right job isn’t always easy.

Many companies don’t offer the flexibility that many older workers want later in life. Age discrimination is another factor, with 78% of older workers claiming to have seen or experienced workplace age discrimination, according to 2021 data from AARP. That’s the highest level since 2003, when AARP began tracking the data.

Yet many companies are increasingly looking to attract mature workers, and with good reason. For one, the labor market is as tight as it’s been in decades and there are now two open jobs for every worker in the nation, and firms are struggling to recruit and retain talent. Research from employee scheduling company Homebase suggests that seniors are more engaged; more likely to look forward to work; more connected to their companies; and less likely to consider quitting. This makes older workers especially attractive in the currently tight labor market, said Jason Greenberg, head economist at Homebase.

Here are four tips to help older workers find an age-friendly employer.

1. Identify companies committed to hiring older workers

Start with those that have publicly pledged to level the playing field for older workers. More than 1,000 companies, including Humana, Microsoft, Marriott International and McDonald’s, have signed on to the AARP Employer Pledge program. Eligible companies can’t have had discrimination lawsuits within the past five years. They must also agree to recruit across diverse age groups and consider all applications equally, regardless of age. AARP also offers a jobs board to help match experienced candidates with companies who have committed to having an age-diverse employee base.

The Age-Friendly Institute also certifies companies that are considered best-in-class for workers aged 50 and above. Applicants go through an extensive review and certification process, which includes committing to “meaningful employment, development opportunities and competitive pay and benefits for employees 50+.” The list, last updated in April, includes Aetna, Home Depot, Macy’s, Starbucks and Wells Fargo.

Just be aware that these lists can change, and don’t give you the whole picture, so be sure to do your due diligence on any company you are considering, said Lance Robertson, a former U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging, who is now a director at Guidehouse, a global consulting and IT services provider.

2. Looks for clues in job postings

Older job candidates should look at a company’s job ads, which can offer insights into the company’s culture and if it’s really age inclusive, said Paul Lewis, chief customer officer at Adzuna, an online job search engine. Older job seekers should look for language that specifically states the company doesn’t discriminate based on age, he said.

Conversely, seniors should be wary of companies that use the term “digital native” in a job description or set a cap on the number of years of experience as a job requirement, said Karina Hertz, strategic communications director of AARP.

Additionally, websites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Glassdoor can be helpful in finding resources and information about a company’s employment practices, including its commitment to older workers. And talking to current and former employees is also a good opportunity to gather information, Robertson said.

It’s also worth checking out what tools, if any, a company offers to help older workers find jobs. Humana, for example, has a career site, with a section on “jobs after retirement” where seniors can search for jobs, learn about popular roles for older workers, and get answers to FAQ, including what the impact of working could be on their Social Security benefits. Workers who are younger than what the Social Security Administration considers their full retirement age and earn more than the yearly earnings limit, $19,560 in 2022, may have their benefits reduced. This means a deduction of $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit, for those who are under full retirement age all year.

3. Press HR for specific answers on learning, benefits

After doing your basic research, be sure to talk to a company’s human resources department to get a deeper understanding of the company’s policies, Robertson said.

Seniors should ask about the kinds of support the company provides to family caregivers and what flexible work options exist in the event an employee needs to take on or increase existing responsibilities. This can include an array of options including job-sharing, compressed work weeks, remote work, hybrid work and project-based work, said Chantelle Johnson, associate vice president of workforce and culture at Humana. It’s also important to find out whether the company offers networking groups for seniors, which is a good way for mature workers to connect and benefit from shared experiences, she said.

Approaches to team collaboration, and learning and development opportunities, are important to know about in advance, said Ronni Zehavi, CEO of HiBob, an HR tech platform. “Even if someone has been in the workforce for 30 years or longer, it doesn’t mean that they have acquired all the wisdom they possibly want,” he said.

It’s equally important to inquire how this learning is accomplished, since many older adults aren’t as tech-savvy as their younger counterparts. Find out whether the company offers other options beyond online and app-based training, Robertson said. And health-care options, including dental, vision and pharmacy benefits, become even more important as people age, so that’s a must to understand, he added.

4. Know the red flags

Look to see whether older workers are featured on the company’s website and in promotional materials. According to Lewis, it’s a bad sign if the organization only chooses to showcase employees in their 20s and 30s.

And if a potential employer asks how old you are, when you graduated, or any other questions meant to gauge your age — either on an application or in a job interview — consider that a red flag, Hertz said.

They shouldn’t be saying things like, “I wasn’t even born when you did that work experience or went to college,” Lewis added.

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About the author:

Cheryl Winokur Munk is an experienced business journalist who writes for a variety of national and international publications on a wide range of topics, including college financial planning, personal finance, the financial advisory business, retirement planning, small businesses and other broad financial, consumer, business and investor-centric topics.

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