A Special Report is content that is edited and produced by the Special Reports unit within The Irish Times Content Studio. It is supported by advertisers who may contribute to the report, but who do not have editorial control.

Older and wiser: the new generation of workers

With the pension age rising and people retiring later in life, older workers are seen as a valuable asset by employers

“We are seeing women come back to careers in their 50s, having reared their families. This is another untapped resource.” Photograph: iStock

“We are seeing women come back to careers in their 50s, having reared their families. This is another untapped resource.” Photograph: iStock


The pension age is rising and it won’t be too long before people will have to wait until they are 68 before they can claim the State pension. Public-sector employees are being offered the opportunity to continue working until they are 70, while the notion of a fixed retirement age in the private sector could soon be abolished, as it has in the UK.

This is a fairly natural consequence of increased longevity. People born today can expect to live to at least 80 years of age and a third of them can expect to live to 100. Furthermore, many older people do not wish to leave the workforce while they still feel they have something to contribute, while others simply cannot afford to.

This should not be seen as a problem, says Valarie Daunt, partner and head of human capital management at Deloitte. “We did a global trends report earlier this year which showed that older workers are a massively untapped opportunity,” she says. “As talent markets grow more competitive, organisations often find it valuable to keep older workers on the job rather than replace them with younger ones. Leading companies are beginning to focus on this talent pool as a competitive advantage.”

The Deloitte report found the older labour pool represents a proven, committed, and diverse set of workers. More than 80 per cent of US employers believe that workers aged 50 and more are “a valuable resource for training and mentoring,” “an important source of institutional knowledge,” and offer “more knowledge, wisdom, and life experience”.

The British government incentivises employers to retain, retrain, and recruit older workers, and it is committed to policies that support lifetime learning and training and decrease loneliness and social isolation.

“Proactive organisations are tapping into the older talent pool by extending their career models, creating new development paths and inventing roles to accommodate workers in their 50s, 60s, and 70s,” says Daunt. “They are also making sure they continue to have development opportunities. The brain doesn’t stop at 60.”


There are fears that having large numbers of older people in the workplace can lead to friction with younger generations who may perceive them as blockers to career advancement and promotion. “Organisations need to ensure they don’t have unconscious bias in relation to older people,” Daunt adds. “Multiple generations can work very well together in the workplace, particularly in a more project-led and less hierarchical environment. The different generations can all contribute to projects.”

Tapping into this resource is another question. “How does an organisation pitch that there are opportunities for everyone? From a selfish perspective, younger people may resent an older person sitting in a job that they want. The move to flatten organisations will help. Employers have to get away from the linear, vertical career model. As we move towards near zero unemployment, organisations have to create opportunities for people to return to the workforce. We are seeing women come back to careers in their 50s, having reared their families. This is another untapped resource.”

UCD Quinn School of Business director Dr Maeve Houlihan sees communication as a potential problem. “This is one of the challenges of having all generations working together in the same workplace,” she says. “It can be as much a challenge as intercultural communication. No one knows what’s going to happen in future. On the one hand, the OECD is painting a picture where industry 4.0, AI, robotics and automation will see a lot of people becoming unemployed. Everything is going to change rapidly. On the other hand, many people are going to have to stay in work longer to support their families and so on. From a knowledge perspective, we absolutely need older workers. It will be a challenge, but it will be a great opportunity too if we can learn to talk to each other.”