Older and Better0
By Frank J. Rich
Among the more common complaints of small business owners is that they cannot find good help, often expressed as, “People just don’t want to work!” According to surveys addressing the issue, they are likely referring to the large but shrinking youth workforce, which is surprisingly disadvantaged in this and other ways. In fact, 86 percent of the 4.2 million increase in the workforce is in those over 55.
There are good reasons for an older work force, such as lower “past retirement” nest eggs, the lure of flexible hours, the high cost of living, the excitement in productive work, and not least, the view that experience is invaluable to all organizations. Co-workers consider older workers a positive influence, good mentors and models, and a font of experience that derives near entirely from longevity.
The Nationwide Building Society survey (2014) shows that the 55 plus worker has fewer sick days, lower loss of workdays from partying, and a greater responsibility to goals and achievement than younger workers. In fact, 70 percent of the 55 plus set arrive early to work, compared with 47 and 50 percent of those aged 25-35 and 18-24, respectively.
The shortage of qualified workers presents an opportunity for businesses small and large. The older worker has one more advantage. He/she has that all-important perspective not yet developed in the young worker. The enterprise may depend on this more than anything else to succeed.
Older workers are more flexible, less in need of a career wage; they exhibit a grateful attitude toward their companies and co-workers, and are clearly the most stable members of the workforce. Further, their contribution goes beyond functional knowledge; they uniquely provide the wisdom, diligence, and practice habits necessary to goals achievement. And, they are more willing to encourage team members often seen as competition by contemporaries.
Older workers have learned the balance between work and home life and are more willing to share the wisdom of age than younger counterparts. As models, there is no equal to experience. It’s an element of work that is uniquely theirs.
One in three workers is over the age of 50, but only 18 percent of US employers have a strategy to hire older workers. This fact is the opportunity in the workforce that small business needs, perhaps more than any other. It may not be that businesses cannot find “good people.” Rather, it may be that they haven’t yet tapped America’s aging population to fill the need. Opportunity awaits those who do.
This column was first published in early 2014. In September of 2015 the movie “The Intern” appeared in theaters. The story line is prodigious and complements the column perfectly.