Tapping into senior resources is a fine example of business diversification. Mature employees harbor a wealth of expertise that can benefit a company at any stage, whether as consultants to a start-up venture or as integrated members of the organization.
Changing Senior Demographics
People over 50 are part of the largest generational segment in America: the Baby Boomers, born after World War II. After 1964, births declined sharply and one future result is a reduced workforce of employees between the ages of 25-49. This labor shortage is a concern felt nationwide in a variety of sectors. Because of this, business owners in all industries should be encouraged to take a second look at tapping into senior resources.
According to the AARP, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by 2010, nearly 20 percent of America's workforce will be 50 and over. This workforce does not plan to count Social Security benefits from their rocking chairs until they turn 62 and a half.
In fact, people 50 and over today are looking forward to different work environments than the ones they've "retired" from most recently. Some will continue to work for financial reasons, while others will stay employed simply because they are healthy, plan to live longer than their predecessors and want to remain vital for a long time.
Pros and Cons to Tapping into Senior Resources
The research group Towers Perrin completed a study of HR managers in 2005 on behalf of AARP. This study outlines how top businesses view senior workers and, thus, consider the value of human capital in general.
- An experienced and loyal person helps a company maintain a competitive edge. Many workers 50 and over have a strong internal motivation and desire to "give it their all" to a company that treats them with respect.
- Older workers have sharper critical thinking skills and professionalism. More and more employers surveyed say that younger people entering the workforce don't have these qualities - and for some reason, don't care.
- Senior employees have more "emotional maturity." This is beneficial to the workforce as a whole and in training situations of younger employees new to an organization.
- Better attention to task and perseverance. Even when working flex-time or part-time schedules, employees 50 and over prove their productivity.
The AARP study revealed some negative perceptions both by employers and society to hiring or retaining an older workforce.
- Older employee health problems will result in increased company-sponsored health care options.
- Older employees will mean paying higher salary and benefit expectations.
- Senior citizens lack technological ability.
- The elderly experience reduction in manual dexterity.
The National Council on Aging has compiled a list of resources to help prospective employers address many of these issues.
Primary Considerations When Hiring
First and foremost, don't judge anyone's ability based on age. Yes, it seems contradictory to encourage a business to tap into senior resources and then say "but don't think about age!" However, even though it may be complimentary to speak of someone's vast experience because of age, it borders on illegal discrimination. So just remove the age equation entirely and focus on the obvious job qualifications and future contributions to the company.
Highlight a cross-set of skills that other employees could learn. Perhaps a current senior employee is a patient trainer or a prospective older applicant has relationship-building skills that could really enhance the abilities of the entire sales force. A good business owner should be able to isolate key qualities in a senior worker from which the whole company can benefit.
What kind of work will you want to be doing at 50 or 55? Empathy for the desire of an older worker to be valued and still be able to make contributions is a humanity lesson often forgotten in the workplace. Regardless of advances in health care and plastic surgery, we will all age, and wouldn't want anyone kicking our abilities and consequently, us, to the curb based on a number.
Diversification in a company goes far beyond product or marketing: a business is only as good as the employees who work there. Maximizing the potential of every employee without discrimination is a sound business practice that guarantees success.
SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, considers its group to be the "counselors to America's Small Business." If you'd like to know more about tapping into senior resources or receive advice on your business, this is a good place to start.