In going for the gold of youth, are you missing out on the silver of age?
It is easy for any HR practitioner to be focused youth; it is almost a no-brainer: they cost less, they can be molded and trained in your ways, they are digitally smart and inexpensive. Besides, they are better looking.
But for any Human Resources recruitment manager, the prime choice is probably the 30-45 year candidate who is mature and experienced, although more expensive.
However, let us face facts: if the date of birth on a CV is anything between 1935 and 1965, it is almost certainly destined for the waste basket.
Look for the reasons and you will find these perceptions about older workers:
- They have less energy
- They are slow to learn
- They are not digitally savvy
- They are set in their ways
- They are ‘know-it-alls’
- They are ‘over qualified’
- They will want to be paid more
- They have health problems
The problem is that HR training does not factor in the need to accommodate an aging workforce. So in the absence of strategies, HR practitioners revert to ageism and stereotypical solutions, namely retirement. But the fact is that people now live longer and are healthier than in the past and they want to be productive and contribute. Plus they need to earn, since less than 6% of them can retire with financial freedom.
In their everyday quest to retain or obtain new talent, forward looking HR careerists first need to challenge the shibboleth which is ‘age of retirement’. There is no such thing. It is an American invention. In South Africa unless the contract with the employee mentions a retirement age or there is a policy in that organisation, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act does not prescribe an age at which employees must retire. Moreover, dismissal based on age can be seen as discrimination.
Our modern Human Resource Manager needs learn what ‘boomers’ are going to do to old practices and to research new thinking about +50, 60, 70 and 80 year olds in the workplace and their needs. (We make special concessions and find solutions for interns and young parents and upwardly mobile execs, so why not be creative in retaining experience?)
One of the resources is Boston College Center on Aging and Work in the USA, which is doing ground-breaking work. (See link below). They suggest that HR practitioners should view retirement as a gradual process. It means actively looking for opportunities for taking on older people in full or part-time positions and offering phased retirement for current staff.
A 2012 survey in America found that 11% of employers offered a phased retirement program and 30% said they rehire retirees. More than half said that they would try to keep older workers on as part-time workers or consultants (69%). Other steps include use of a knowledge transfer program to allow workers who are approaching retirement age to mentor or transfer knowledge to younger workers (53%), and they will use a succession plan for critical positions (51%). Almost half (46%) tried to entice older workers to remain as full-time employees.
If there is a need for further encouragement, various studies came to these conclusions: older workers were self‐motivated, reliable, disciplined and had respect for authority. They were well regarded by customers and co-operated with coworkers. Their work was of a high standard and they learnt as much as younger workers. It also transpired that they were happier on the job, had a low absentee rate and were loyal to the organisation.
Moreover, in mentorship positions they could role-model resilience and problem-solving skills and catch many a potential mistake because of institutional memory.
So new attitudes about the it list at the top of the story may
- ‘They have less energy,’ may mean that their energy is being used in a more focused and productive way – younger people often misdirect energy.
- ‘They are slow to learn’, may mean that they are slow-er to learn new things but under certain circumstances (strangely enough in the midst of distraction) they are more able to retain information.
- ‘They are not digitally savvy’, (ditto)
- ‘They are set in their ways’. Openness to learning new things is as important in youth as it is among older adults. The tools to open minds among younger people can be utilised among the older cohort.
- ‘They are ‘know-it-alls’. Yes, and sometimes that is a good thing, but the previous point about openness applies. Their roles as mentors are often under-estimated and under-utilised.
- ‘They are ‘over qualified’ and they will want seniority and to be paid more. Give them a good job description and a salary range and let them decide; in other words, do not assume! Sometimes they will work for less money and more time off (just like some millennials).
‘They have health problems’, this is not always true: some are fitter than most of us – Gary Player the golfer, does 1000 sit-ups every day and he is 80. The issue is whether you are sure and does it matter?
One thing that can be done immediately by HR practitioners who do not want to be accused of ageism: instead of the normal practice of not planning training for people 60+, offer them training so that their skills are updated and they are able to be useful to the organisation and themselves.
Are you prepared to make the most of a diverse workforce? The Center on Aging & Work, in collaboration with AARP, has launched two new resources to help employers navigate this changing landscape: the AARP Workforce Benchmarking Tool and Employer Solutions for Family Caregivers. http://www.bc.edu/research/agingandwork/archive_news/2015/2015-11-23.html. Test yourself.
How up-to-date are you about accommodating an aging working population?
Don’t get left behind – the boomers are here!
Can you think of ways in which the older worker contributes to a working environment?