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‘I'm Not Ready to Do Nothing.’

December 1, 1998
Related Topics: Workforce Planning, Featured Article
Sixty-nine-year-old Frances (Fran) Stetz worked for 10 years as a nursing assistant. Prior to that, she also raised six kids. It's time, one would think, for her to retire and relax. But Stetz will have none of that.

Last May, six weeks after she retired from Fairview General Hospital, Stetz took a part-time position with Bonne Bell, maker of Lip Smackers and other cosmetic products targeted at pre-teen and teen-age girls. "I'm not ready to do nothing," Stetz says.

Seniors fill a workforce need.
Stetz is one of 70 members of the Westlake, Ohio-based company's seniors-only production program. The workers range in age from 58 to 88, the majority being in their 60s.

The program is the brainchild of Bonne Bell's Chairman and CEO Jess A. Bell, himself 73. The idea came to him while he and his wife were working in the plant. "We always need good part-time people," he says, "and they’re hard to come by. It occurred to me that retired people might be a good source of part-time help."

To start the program, Bell and others, including 60-year-old James Chastain, a senior manager who is now in charge of the program, converted downstairs storage space at the company headquarters into a production facility, adding new lighting, air-conditioning and other amenities. The company provides seniors with their own parking area and restroom facilities. "My feeling is that senior people should be together, not just added to the mix," says Bell about the accommodations. "I'm a senior, and if I'm going to work like this, I don't want to go to a McDonalds and be bossed around by a teenager. I want more respect." Stetz appreciates the gesture. "We are a different department," she says. "We don't have to compete with the kids upstairs."

Stetz and others in the program do assembly-line, production-type work: putting together displays, boxing shipments and producing "blister" packaging. They work in two four-hour shifts -- either 7:30 am to 11:30 am or noon to 4 pm -- earning $7 an hour.

Seniors want to be productive.
For Stetz, who is the floor supervisor for the second shift, the income is nice, but not the sole reason for her going back to work. She has Social Security, a pension, and is fortunate to still have her husband around. She also has plenty of family with which to keep herself busy -- Stetz is grandmother of 15 and a great-grandmother of two. So why work? "I enjoy going to work," she says, adding that there are many in the program who are in her situation, but also some who have lost their spouses and need income. "For most of us, we want to be productive, useful."

Chastain, who's essentially the HR person for the project (the company just brought on an HR person within the last six months), says the workers are reliable workers. Indeed, with the senior workers on board, the company has been able to stop hiring offsite suppliers to do some of its packaging. And the program is growing. Bell intends to add an additional seniors' space at the company's main manufacturing plant, a short distance from corporate headquarters.

Stetz is glad to hear it, and advocates for other companies to follow suit. "What a blessing it would be for other cosmetic companies to get involved in a senior program," she says. "I'm thankful to be a part of Bonne Bell's senior department."

Workforce, December 1998, Vol. 77, No. 12, p.144.

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