"Mature couple to manage apartments." That is typical of the classified advertisements we run when we need a resident manager for one of our apartment locations.
Americans worship youth, but at my company we like the skill, experience, reliability, and dedication that come with older workers. We prefer not to hire anyone under 35, and we really like applicants who are between 45 and 55 years old -- especially for positions of responsibility.
We may be out of step with modern America, but we find that our work force is more stable, productive, loyal, and satisfied than its younger counterparts in other companies. We have come to the conclusion that most businesses, especially larger businesses, don't know a good thing when they see it. Middle-age or older workers are regularly eased out, laid off, or fired outright in what should be their most productive years of employment. Our national fascination with youth has caused us to devalue one of our most valuable assets. But we entrepreneurs can take advantage of other people's poor judgment by staffing our businesses from this rich pool of seasoned talent (see INC. November 1983, page 174).
Older workers, as a rule, are more committed to their jobs and place more value on them. They are more realistic about themselves and their position in the world and in the company. Also, they are more experienced, skilled, and responsible than most younger employees.
In today's economy, with so many companies cutting the size of their staffs and even going out of business, older workers are in abundant supply, and there is little competition for even the choicest among them.
I learned early on that older people do, indeed, make good employees. My career in developing, building, and managing apartments started in 1959, when, as an apprentice carpenter, I saw first hand the value of an older worker, which is not always obvious.
Our two lead carpenters were 25 to 30 years oId, and they were very good. They worked tirelessIy, eight hours a day, swinging big 20-ounce hammers. Frank, our third man, had been a carpenter when these two were still in diapers. He worked more slowly, used a smaller, 16-ounce hammer, and didn't look like he was working as hard as the younger men.
Yet at the end of each day, he had done as much work, as neatly or better, with less lost motion, fewer bent nails, and less wasted lumber than the youngsters. His know-how, gained from long experience, helped him keep up with the younger, stronger men on the job. Frank taught me my first lesson about older employees, and my personal experiences since have only reinforced that lesson.
Most older workers have a better work ethic than younger ones. They realize that "having means doing." What they want is a paycheck, not time off. They have responsibilities. Almost all of my employees take extra pay in lieu of vacation. Many of them still remember the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II, they know what it is to go without, and they don't want that, for themselves or for their families Many younger people, growing up under different circumstances, feel that they are somehow owed a decent life
Besides displaying a strong work ethic, most older workers are eager to find and keep a job. They know they aren't the most marketable of commodties in our society, and they place a high value on their employment. Many young people feel that their jobs interfere with their lives. For many older workers, their jobs are their lives.
Mature workers are realistic about their abilities and where they are going in their jobs. The best and brightest young people are ambitious, and rightly so. They want jobs that will lead to bigger and better things. Few of us run companies that are on their way to becoming another Xerox or IBM, and that is the way we prefer it. But that means that upward mobility within our small businesses is limited. With only 10 or 20 employees, the only promotion may be to "Boss," and most of us bosses aren't planning to leave soon.
Many young people aren't going to stay with us long under those circumstances, but good, older employees are more content. They know that the job they hired on for is the job they will keep for as long as they are with the company. They know who they are, and they are satisfied with their lives. For an employer, that means a staff of stable employees. Most of my people have been with me for 10 years or more.
Along with commitment and stability, older workers also bring a wealth of experience and know-how to the job. In a small business, where you don't have a steady stream of junior executives and research people moving in and out of your company, this wisdom is particularly important. These older people bring good ideas from past jobs with them, and if you listen to their suggestions, you may find your company benefiting in increased efficiency and lower costs.
Since they already know a Iot about work and business, these mature workers require less training. They are usually quick studies, and you will never have to start at the beginning with them. They come to the job knowing how the workplace functions and where they fit in.
Sometimes you will get a know-it-all, but if you work him right, he will come around. That saying about an old dog and new tricks usually doesn't apply. On the other hand, you might listen to his suggestions -- he may know a thing or two that he can teach the boss.
Finally, older employees will cost you less in mistakes and lost time. My insurance agent cries every time I show him the census of my employees and their ages. But he aIways makes a profit from my group They are more careful on the job and in their personal habits. This same care applies in the treatment they give my company's property.
Of course some young people make wonderful employees, and some older people are deadbeats. But as a general observation, I find it true that if a person is ever going to be a valuable employee, it is more likely to be later than sooner.
Small businesses need what these older workers have to offer. Younger applicants may have bigger dreams and louder voices, but older employees have what it takes to make and keep a small business successful.