Call them senior citizens, retirees, or simply older workers: Hiring employees from this fast-growing group can be a smart way to bring expertise to a business. So why don't more companies do it?
Baby boomers have been nicknamed the "Silver Tsunami" for their impact on every facet of society. Now, as 76,000,000 of them reach age 60 and beyond, it seems they either can't or don't want to stop working. This revolution in past assumptions is poised to change the workplace -- and be a bonanza for smart, open-minded business owners.
"If you look at data on older individuals' job performance and abilities, they get mind-blowingly better with age," says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "Especially in areas increasingly key to success, like interpersonal skills and teamwork. And older workers are flexible, which employers also say they want."
Yet many companies still resist hiring older workers because of certain misplaced preconceptions. To help overcome such issues, Cappelli and Bill Novelli, former CEO of AARP, last year co-wrote the book, Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order.
Placed in the right jobs and integrated properly, America's expanding pool of senior talent can be a boon to your business. Here are some factors to help you decide.
7 Tips for Hiring Older Workers: Be Aware of Your Biases
To accurately assess whether hiring older workers makes sense, you may need to start by identifying any ingrained prejudices. It's apparently a pervasive cultural problem.
A 2008 AARP survey of 1,500 U.S. workers ages 45 to 74 found nearly 60% experienced or saw age discrimination on the job or during the hiring process. According to Cappelli's research, age bias is now a bigger issue than gender or race. Some industries are worse; he cites a report in which a majority of IT recruiters said they wouldn't hire someone over 40.
Cappelli thinks the core problem is the fear younger supervisors have of managing older subordinates. He attributes this to an outmoded leadership model. "The presumption is, the leader always knows more and has more experience," he says. Also part of the fear is "the knowledge that easy carrot-and-stick incentives – promotion or firing – won't work on older employees."
Ironically, objections to older workers may be based on management styles from another era. Consider hiring an older person a way to evaluate and update your firm's practices.
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7 Tips for Hiring Older Workers: What Motivates Older Workers
It isn't becoming Master of the Universe or terrorizing junior staff. But if you have a customer-oriented business, it may be exactly what you need.
Bill Coleman is vice president of research and employer certification at retirementjobs.com, an online service that specializes in connecting businesses with age 50-plus employees.
"People in the early two-thirds of working lives are focused on mobility, promotion, upward salary," he says. "People in the last third are focused on stability, something to do, reasons to be useful, and ways to interact. Work is about human interaction and community."
That translates well for businesses that need good customer service skills because older workers tend to be more empathetic, better communicators and more comforting, he says. "Retailers, pharmacies, health care and the travel/resort/hotel industries are discovering what big employers like Home Depot already have."
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7 Tips for Hiring Older Workers: What Older Workers Bring to the Table
Another value Home Depot and big companies such as H&R Block have recognized is the knowledge that older workers possess.
"These places have discovered this huge pool and how to extract from it," says Coleman. "H&R hires a ton of former accountants, CPA's, tax people; Home Depot does the same with former contractors, specialty tradesman, etc. It builds up an accumulated base of expertise."
Utilizing such expertise could be critical in the short run because of demographic trends. The boomer population is followed by a bust before the next big bubble of Gen Y goes to work. That gap in the middle means a potential disruption in so-called "knowledge transfer" and in a steady supply of skilled employees, obstacles that hiring older workers can alleviate.
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7 Tips for Hiring Older Workers: Additional Benefits of Older Employees
Another asset older workers offer to small businesses is flexibility. They often don't need to keep 9 to 5 hours. Their kids are grown up. They relish the freedom of unconventional job situations.
Kevin Dent is CEO of Dentco, an exterior services management firm based in Dewitt, Mich. Dentco has 65 employees, including 23 part-time quality services inspectors whose ages range from a couple in their mid-50s to a man in his mid-80s.
Dent began recruiting older workers five years ago, when his firm's hiring model changed from exclusively full-time to adding more part-time inspectors in order to put them closer to clients' locations all across the country. Paid per diem, inspectors work three to 10 days a month traveling from one site to another, walking the grounds, taking photos, filing computer reports and meeting clients.
"It's worked miraculously well," says Denton. "I'm a 55-year-old baby boomer and I feel there's a whole different work ethic with senior citizens. They know how to handle people at the sites, make great ambassadors and have empathy and discipline. They meet their commitments."
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7 Tips for Hiring Older Workers: Cost of Older Employees
Among common objections to hiring older workers is the fear of added expense, largely through health-related issues. But there also are savings.
First, a simple law of economics is that oversupply equals lowered cost. So when it comes to paying skilled boomers, "It's a good buyers market," says Coleman. That won't last forever, as the economy recovers and demand for skilled workers increase.
Providing health care isn't a factor with part-time or retirement-age workers, who get Medicare. But businesses hiring full-time under retirement age will need benefits or pensions that suit older workers. There can be up-front costs with instituting such plans.
Still, "There's no evidence older workers cost more," says Wharton's Cappelli. "While it's true older workers use health care more, they have no dependents and don't get pregnant." Research also indicates older workers are more loyal, and less turnover is less cost.
Dig Deeper: Older Workers More Loyal to Employers
7 Tips for Hiring Older Workers: Integrating Older Workers
Small companies are somewhat worse than big ones when it comes to hiring older workers. However, the main reason isn't cost.
"Entrepreneurs and small business owners tend to think 'Everyone needs to be like me' – fast moving, career jumping, aggressive," says Coleman. "But older workers have a different style that emphasizes other values." Small businesses need to recognize strength in diversity.
For an older employee, the ideal job will accent altruism, interaction and teamwork. They also perform best when consulted and empowered. For the person who'll be supervising, it's important to help him or her get past the psychological hump of managing an older subordinate – i.e., the dreaded confrontation with Mom or Dad.
Training is essential even if the new hire has five decades of experience. At Dentco, the trainer is an ex-veteran in his late 50s whom new hires respect. Interestingly enough, the military yields other models: in his book, Cappelli cites a program instituted by the Marines to foster teamwork between young, newly minted lieutenants put in charge of 40-year-old sergeants.
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7 Tips for Hiring Older Workers: Where to Find Older Workers
Despite the surveys that indicate older workers are under-employed, it's not always easy finding them. That's partly because human resources people often exhibit the same age-based biases.
In recent years, firms specializing in jobs for older workers have cropped up. Along with retirementjobs.com, others include retireecareers.com, seniors4hire.org and seniorjobbank.com. Big agencies Manpower Inc. and Kelly Services partner with AARP to connect older job seekers with companies. Try networking through local churches, schools (retired teachers!) and military bases.
Just remember, say experts, that the goal in hiring older workers should not be ideological. It should be the same as for any form of diversity: to become a stronger company based on the complementary strengths of your people.
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