Seasoned to Perfection: How Older Workers Benefit Small Businesses
- Human Resources
6 min. Read
Last Updated: 02/03/2016
Table of Contents
Laszlo has experienced much in his life. He's witnessed war and fled his native country. He found a new home in America and raised a family. He also enjoyed a long career in sanitation. Now, at 87, he still enjoys working, and spends 30 hours a week handling recycling for a major department store.
"I wish we had more employees like him," comments Jolene Mancini, local HR Manager for a national retailer. "He's completely reliable and one of the most productive workers on a very busy crew. Our whole team finds his work ethic inspiring." Laszlo is not the only team member over eighty. Carole, a sales associate, is 82. Their experience and dedication is highly valued by teammates and managers alike, many of whom are less than half their age.
Older Workers Can Equal Motivated and Experienced Leaders
Whether they continue working because of a desire to stay busy or due to financial needs, older workers represent motivated employees who may come equipped with leadership qualities. An important factor is well-developed communication skills. In a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (developed in partnership with AARP), respondents noted that reading, writing, and speaking in English were some of the most important areas where older workers enjoyed a significant "skills advantage."
The same study shows that human resource managers report that professionalism and work ethic are important reasons why older workers make such a favorable impression on employers and their workplace culture.
Christine O'Rourke SPHR, human resources manager and talent acquisition strategist, comments: "Older workers add value beyond their inherently strong work ethic. Their wide range of work and life experience enables them to mentor fellow employees and offer a unique perspective to management. Many have received valuable training during their work life and this can represent a significant asset to their late career employers."
An Expanding Pipeline of Mature Talent
America's population is aging, and so is its workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the 55+ age group as the fastest-growing portion of the American labor force, and projects the group will account for 43% of working Americans by 2020. Forward-thinking small business owners are leveraging that fact into a great opportunity to acquire experienced talent.
"Hiring older workers is an innovative and successful solution to our staffing needs", says Debbie Herb, owner of The Boxman, in Rochester, New York. "During the past 12 years, we've found our older workers to be reliable and extremely hard working. Their core values and work ethic offer our family business an employee base that is both caring and dedicated. Ultimately, they become an important part of our extended family."
Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Peter Cappelli offers advice to help younger managers engage older workers and make the most of their experience. Cappelli notes that acknowledging their experience and treating the older employee as a partner in problem-solving can deliver exceptional results. Simple professional respect leverages the older workers experience into productivity for the whole team.
Embracing Experience to Overcome Age Discrimination
Despite the value of their experience, older workers can find it difficult to get hired. Some hiring managers don't consider applicants over 55 due to misperceptions and stereotypes, believing that older workers demand too high a salary, or are resistant to new technology, or that they frequently miss work due to illness. Ageism is not only illegal, it represents backward thinking that can hold a business back from reaching its full potential. In reality, older workers can provide greater professional ability, with potentially more flexibility and less risk.
Building the Future of your Business Around the Strengths of Older Workers
Older workers mean good business. From adding reliable seasonal help to enabling successful teams with highly experienced managers, hiring older workers is a powerful way to grow your business. Carefully targeting the 55+ age group in your recruiting strategy for the coming year could give you an important competitive advantage.