Older Employees in the Workplace

by | May 16, 2013 | Business Strategies

Older workers might be viewed as having one foot in retirement, but in today’s economy senior citizens are working longer – and can provide business-enhancing skills that younger, less experienced employees cannot.

In our series examining non-traditional work arrangements, we looked at telecommuting and job-sharing options. But it’s not just what your employees do, but who they are, that can break the boundaries of what is typically viewed as “traditional” work arrangements – and help your company break into a higher level of service.

Studies show that older workers tend to take twice as long to find new employment as younger employees, up to 11 months on average. Yet a recent study by Adecco found that in almost all categories – communication, personal presentation, leadership, work ethic – employers saw workers aged 50 and older excelling far beyond their Millennial counterparts.

“The survey showed that hiring managers associate mature workers with being reliable (91%) and professional (88%),” among other data.

In some cases, firms seek out older workers in order to serve a specific client base. CVS Pharmacy, for example, discovered that a majority of customers in wintertime were seniors. Who better to understand the needs of seniors and serve them than fellow sexagenarians? CVS began hiring older workers for customer service positions, and business boomed. As the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania noted in a blog interview, the company even allows retired workers seasonal positions for fellow snow-birds in Florida – almost a reversal of college students working summers at beach resorts.

In other cases, older workers have a wealth of experience that can only be earned by decades in the field. A Home Depot manager recruited his neighbor, then 72, because he had a lifetime of knowledge as a lighting expert.

Wrote MSN Money this April:

“In fact, customers often gravitate to these older, more experienced store associates, said Stephen Holmes, a Home Depot spokesman.

“They’re the ones that people come in and ask for by name,” he said.”

Older workers can bring a passion for their position that younger employees may not have found. One survey discovered that many older workers don’t have to keep working, they simply like to work. Imagine that: Employees so motivated in their jobs that they keep at it even when they don’t have to.

From U.S. News and World Report: 

“Another survey by investment firm Charles Schwab found that only 1 in 4 older employees who want to continue working are doing so primarily because they need the money. For three-fourths of employees between ages 50 and 60, Schwab found, the primary motivation for work is that they like their jobs and find the work experience satisfying. Nearly 60 percent like what they do and about half like their workplace colleagues, Schwab said. And about two-thirds had positive attitudes about having good job skills and jobs that were a positive challenge for them.”

Older employees can present some challenges that their younger counterparts avoid. Managers have to tread carefully giving instruction to employees with decades more life experience. And those over 50 often have a larger learning curve when it comes with new technology, especially compared to recent college graduates who grew up with using computers from childhood. But those obstacles are easily overcome by thoughtful managers and employees willing to learn.

This thinking – examining the talents that a different kind of worker can bring to your business – doesn’t have to remain focused on age. Moms are killer multi-taskers. A stay-at-home-mother returning to the work force after a few years off juggling kids’ needs, a house, pets, and other projects can have more project-management skills than some business students. Someone returning from an extended healthcare leave might have an energy and passion for resuming work that someone who never broke from the grind might not. By giving perspective employees with non-traditional backgrounds a chance to pitch their skills for your business, you might buck accepted practice – but you might also find a diamond in the rough. ​