Responsible, Dependable, Loyal and Mature

Very few days pass that one of the news outlets is not presenting a story related to the current high unemployment rate.  Many of these stories focus on the long-term unemployed, particularly those who are Baby Boomers (the roughly 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964).

The unemployment rate in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) was last reported at 9.1 percent in May of 2011.  This figure includes all age groups.  However, the unemployment rate for men and women 45 or older continues to rise, and for older Baby Boomers the rate is growing faster.  For the unemployed aged 50-54 the unemployment rate has nearly doubled since the downturn in the economy began (May 2011 – 6.4% | Dec. 2007 – 3.3%).

So, what’s happening?  Is it age discrimination?  Or, is something else going on?  A little research reveals that there are a number of factors at play.

First off, as I addressed in a previous entry, there are just not enough jobs to go around regardless of the unemployed workers’ age.   Then there are some employers who might have hired but who have realized that they can operate with fewer employees.   So, from an efficiency standpoint, why hire?

Businesses are making money, but are holding on to it.  The reasons stated for this is that they are nervous about the recovery and don’t wish to jump into expansion or hiring mode too soon.  Others are waiting to see a boost in consumer spending – problem here is that consumers who aren’t working can’t spend and those who can are also holding on to their cash too. To further exacerbate the issue, more Baby Boomers are staying in the workforce longer.  While it was expected that waves of Baby Boomers would start retiring, it hasn’t happened to the extent anticipated.  Many saw reduced retirement savings as a result of the economic downturn and need to remain employed, while others, who are enjoying better health than previous generations, wish to continue working.

When businesses do hire, many are opting to select younger employees.  Typically the younger employee is viewed as more energetic and, of course, less expensive from a payroll perspective.

Recognizing the payroll dilemma and laws of supply and demand, many Boomers are offering their services at reduced rates.  But still there’s little response from employers.  We hear many excuses for why older workers are not being hired.  For example, employers believe they will jump ship if something better comes along.  Or, that the older worker is nearing the end of their careers so are less motivated and/or will retire shortly.  The most frequently heard excuse is that many are seen as over qualified.  This reason makes little sense.  Wouldn’t we all like to have someone that is over qualified?  Don’t we want someone who can truly hit the ground running; someone who can mentor and lead; someone who presents a positive role model.

A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with an older woman who had recently retired from the insurance business.  She was looking for a part-time employment situation so that she could travel, spend time with family and generally just ease into retirement.  When we hired her, at 60+ she was by far the oldest employee in our office of about 8-10 employees.  However, what she brought to the company, as a mature, experienced employee was astounding.  Her work ethic and professionalism was second to none.  She provided a model for the younger employees and shared her wealth of knowledge with everyone.  On a part-time basis, she performed as much work as a full-time employee.  She was one of the smartest hires the company ever made.  After several years with the company she decided she was ready to retire full-time, but those of us who worked with her were forever influenced by what she brought to the company, we all benefited greatly from having worked with her.

There are many reasons to hire an older employee.  The list below compiled by Stephen Bastien (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/167500) covers a few of them.

1. Dedicated workers produce higher quality work, which can result in a significant cost savings for you. Stories abound of highly committed older workers finding others’ potentially costly mistakes regarding everything from misspelling of client names to pricing errors and accounting mistakes.

2. Punctuality seems to be a given for older workers. Most of them look forward to going to work each day, so they’re likely to arrive on time and be ready to work.

3. Honesty is common among older workers, whose values as a group include personal integrity and a devotion to the truth.

4. Detail-oriented, focused and attentive workers add an intangible value that rubs off on all employees and can save your business thousands of dollars.

5. Good listeners make great employees because they’re easier to train–older employees only have to be told once what to do.

6. Pride in a job well done has become an increasingly rare commodity among younger employees. Younger workers want to put in their time at work and leave, while older employees are more willingly to stay later to get a job done because of their sense of pride in the final product.

7. Organizational skills among older workers mean employers who hire them are less likely to be a part of this startling statistic: More than a million man hours are lost each year simply due to workplace disorganization.

8. Efficiency and the confidence to share their recommendations and ideas make older workers ideal employees. Their years of experience in the workplace give them a superior understanding of how jobs can be done more efficiently, which saves companies money. Their confidence, built up through the years, means they won’t hesitate to share their ideas with management.

9. Maturity comes from years of life and work experience and makes for workers who get less “rattled” when problems occur.

10. Setting an example for other employees is an intangible value many business owners appreciate. Older workers make excellent mentors and role models, which makes training other employees less difficult.

11. Communication skills–knowing when and how to communicate–evolve through years of experience. Older workers understand workplace politics and know how to diplomatically convey their ideas to the boss.

12. Reduced labor costs are a huge benefit when hiring older workers. Most already have insurance plans from prior employers or have an additional source of income and are willing to take a little less to get the job they want. They understand that working for a company can be about much more than just collecting a paycheck.

My advice to employers, don’t discount the older worker.  Don’t risk passing up the best hire you may ever make.

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