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Make room for employees 45 and older

In Europe, we are dealing with a fundamental demographic change. In Belgium, more than half of the labor force is already older than 40. In the Netherlands, we will soon reach this 'tipping point'. We are threatened by a lack of labor force since the baby boomers are retiring. However, this retiring generation has not been replaced by a young one yet. From 2013 onwards, Europe’s active labor force will be decreasing year after year. Therefore, it has simply become impossible for organizations to only focus on hiring young employees. The time for a new approach has come.

Even when companies can’t find youngsters, they often don’t consider hiring older employees (45+), according to our experience. In their briefings to headhunters, these companies often ask for employees ‘under the age of 45’, leading to the fact that older employees don’t get many opportunities. Prejudices are almost always involved. Some of the most persistent ones are: older employees are ill more often, they are less flexible and less motivated, it is less interesting to invest in them, they don’t accept demotion and they can’t handle the technological progress.

On the contrary, older employees can offer some specific advantages:
  1. They are more loyal. They will leave the company less quickly...
  2. ...therefore, investing in this group is often more profitable than investing in younger employees who still want to take some further career steps.
  3. The employees’ absenteeism rate decreases according to their age. On the other hand, the duration of this absenteeism increases. Bottom line: older employees aren’t ill more often than younger employees at all, but this absenteeism needs another approach.
  4. Since older employees are more experienced, they are just as productive as their younger counterparts. Because the first ones work more efficiently, they usually achieve the same result in less time.
  5. Finally, they can be a source of inspiration for their colleagues, enabling the latter to develop more quickly.
  6. Often, older employees are a little more flexible when it comes down to negotiating financial arrangements. Since they have already been active for a longer period of time, their financial situation is different. Only few people still want to be hired for an indefinite period of time. This means that you often can make excellent custom-made arrangements with older employees.
In all the companies I have been leading so far, I have always been working with colleagues who were older than me. I really do believe that maximum diversity is a condition required to make a company achieve top performances in the long term.

I think that too many people with more or less the same background will eventually waste their time arguing in circles. You definitely need other opinions in order to take the best decisions. According to my experience, the overview older employees dispose of, has often proved to be particularly valuable. Moreover, it sometimes seems as if older employees are extra motivated; perhaps, because they have got an opportunity… .

There is more than one way to Rome. This is also the case for a company’s success. However, Europe’s demographic foundation has changed and we will have to deal with older employees in a different way. The companies that will be the first to understand how to do this as effectively as possible, will enjoy a competitive advantage. Because at the end of every business day, the older employees in this case, will make the difference.


By Paul Donkers

"my purpose is to help improve strategy execution, to create high performing teams and coach for effective business leaders"

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