The benefit of wisdom Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

If you don’t have older people on staff, you could be losing out on a valuable way for your company to save money and improve competitiveness.

With people living much longer, retiring at 62 or 65 is no longer an attractive option for many. Many older people want and/or need to keep working. Over the next decade or so, this changing landscape in the work force will require new ways of thinking.

“Many companies are passing up a very valuable resource — our older adults,” says Jerry M. Bladdick, a gerontology instructor and vice president for graduate and adult enrollment at Fontbonne University. “Older adults bring knowledge, experience, dedication and loyalty to the workplace that is often lacking in younger people today. There are many benefits to hiring older workers, and it can be a win-win for everyone.”

Smart Business spoke to Bladdick about what companies need to know about older workers and how they can begin to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity.

Why are older people looking for work or to re-enter the work force after retiring?

Many older adults don’t want to retire in the first place but feel compelled to do so because it is the normal thing to do when one reaches 55, 62 or 65 years of age. Some older adults are even forced out of work, and some become semi-retired or what is also known as part-time retired.

Regardless of what you call it, there are as many reasons why older adults want to come out of retirement as there are older adults. Many seniors use part-time or even full-time employment as a form of socialization, others need additional income or benefits, and some simply just want to work, saying it keeps the mind, body and spirit from decaying.

We are living longer and healthier than ever before, and, for some, the thought of spending 20, 30 or even 40 years in a state of retirement is just not an acceptable alternative.

How do companies benefit by hiring older workers?

Older workers are in hot demand by companies that recognize their value. Many companies realize that paying a senior saves money because they don’t have to train new hires. Older workers have a history of being on time for work, take less sick days and, very often, don’t have to contend with the domestic matters that younger employees have to deal with. When compared to many younger workers, older workers are more productive, have a higher sense of pride and loyalty, and have outstanding customer service skills. Often their schedule is flexible. They don’t mind working early in the morning or on weekends.

How can companies attract older talent?

The best place for a company to find older employees who are most familiar with their line of work/business is to start in house. Look at who is getting ready to retire and invite them to stay. Second, contact former employees to see if they have any interest in coming back to work on a temporary, part-time or full-time basis.

Do older workers have any special needs?

Most of the time, older adults want a fair wage and some flexibility in regard to where they work, when they work and how much they work. And, in some cases, they may ask for benefits, summers off, no weekends or maybe they only want to work weekends. In order for this to be a win-win for the employer and employee, both will need to do some giving.

Can older workers give a company a competitive edge?

They sure can. First, many older workers have experience they want to share with their younger co-workers — that knowledge base saves time and money. Second, having several generations in the work place makes for a diverse setting, and diversity increases competitiveness. Finally, contrary to what some might believe, older workers are not afraid of technology. When you tap existing knowledge and fuse it with today’s technology, can you imagine the possibilities?

Where do you see this trend heading in the future?

Some statistics state that as many as half of all individuals over 45 believe they will work well into their 70s, if not until they die, and four out of 10 seniors say the same thing. As we continue to live longer and run the chance of out-living our retirement savings and with inflation running wild these days, I see more and more older folks wanting to work. In addition, I want to believe that corporate America will welcome these very talented and hard workers and, when necessary, make special accommodations for them. I truly believe that companies that don’t embrace an older work force are just plain missing the boat.

JERRY M. BLADDICK is a gerontology instructor and vice president for graduate and adult enrollment at Fontbonne University. Reach him at (314) 719-3670 or jbladdick@fontbonne.edu.