Older workers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic face damage that will take years to recover from, and will not occur in time for many to get back to work.
They’re the most likely to want to work all their time in the office. They’re modest about their digital skills. And so the pandemic is making it harder for them to stay at work.
IT leaders can educate themselves about this. In fact many such leaders are themselves examples of middle- or late-career experts in digital technology who do say they are flexible and who can demonstrate strong skills to benefit their co-workers. Some organizations may wish to invest immediately in the training and collaboration opportunities that can help older workers feel more masterful and less lonely going into this brutal winter of renewed work-at-home guidance.
Orgs fear losing late career expertise
We often hear worries that organizations who are losing their older workers to retirement are losing expertise. Act now during the Covid-19 pandemic to protect that expertise by supporting part-time office work if you can and by reaching out to older workers with support for staying at home. Many older workers are quite deft with digital technology, and feel that’s true. About 1 in 3 (36%) of boomers who say they’re proficient or expert with digital tech feel that the organization where they work employs their personal tech skills “to a large extent.” Find them and put them to work for the boomers and X’ers who feel less masterful.
I’m seeing data that supports how Covid-19 is affecting the older worker base is a crisis, and the anecdotes are emerging as well. Consider this PBS Newshour piece. Data from governments and reputable survey firms document the impact directly. Also, it’s easy to extrapolate based on trends that older workers are more likely to find themselves out of work than people in the middle of their careers now, especially in roles that are easy (and even desirable) to work from home.
Older workers are office work-friendly
Many older workers strongly preferred the office before they were affected by Covid. In fact, 18% of boomers said they’d like to work 100% of the time in the office, the largest proportion of any generation. You expected to hear that, I bet. And it won’t surprise you to hear that 15% of Gen X workers would like to spend 100% of their time in the office.
Older workers do better in hybrid work than you think
But here’s what’s going to startle you. Fully 17% of boomers want to spend ZERO time in the office. That is the highest percentage of workers in any generation that say that. And 13% of Gen X would like to spend absolutely no time in the office. They’re #2 in that proportion. All that data is from 2019, even before older workers faced the Covid-19 pandemic. I am sure it has increased.
Boomers and X’ers are the most likely to say they want to work absolutely zero time in their dwellings. But boomers and X’ers are also also the most likely to want to spend more than 75% at home. In other words, many boomers and X’ers were ready for a two-location hybrid workforce even before 2020. They do show weak affinity for working in public, while commuting, or at a workshare.
Make hybrid work better for elder workers
The hybrid workplace will demand workers who demonstrate workspace flexibility. IT leaders should prepare now to offer key technologies and applications that support training and fellowship to give older workers the ability to stay on the payroll. Otherwise, key knowledge and value will disappear as one more cost of this grueling pandemic.
All this data is from 2019. We will have new data in 2021. We’re putting a digital worker survey in the field right now; we do it roughly every two years, and we have strong data from it that show how the generations vary.