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Getting Ready For Older Workers

Shed your misconceptions, learn the facts about Social Security income limits, and find sources for older workers who "bring a whole wealth of knowledge and experience as well as a very strong work ethic."

January 31, 2001
Related Topics: Miscellaneous Legal Issues, Candidate Sourcing, Workforce Planning
Aging workers are in your future,whether you realize it or not. According to figures from the AARP, from nowthrough 2004, the percentage of the population that is in the workforce willgrow by a minuscule 0.1 percent annually.

    At the same time, the pool of maleworkers age 55-64 will grow by 43 percent and the pool of female workers in thesame age range will increase by 63 percent.

    Another AARP study found that 80percent of the baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, plan to work atleast part-time after their normal retirement age. Roughly a third (35 percent)plan to work for their own interest and enjoyment, and about a quarter (23percent) plan to work because they want income.

    But they don’tnecessarily want to fall back on the traditional “older worker” jobs likechild care or being a security guard. Many of them are looking for work in areaswhere they have experience, have an opportunity to learn something new, can makesome decent money, and will enjoy professional and social interaction. Othersdon’t want to look for a job at all - they want to keep the ones they havepast the age when they would normally retire.

    At Zabin Industriesin Southern California, Dave Frank, vice president of operations, doesn’t evenworry about people retiring because of their age.

    “I think Robbieset the tone for that,” he says. Robbie is Robbie Eisenberg, cofounder of thecompany and the man who, at 102, was recognized last year as the oldest workerin America.

    For other employers,the tight employment markets in some geographical and industrial areas arecausing them to either rehire workers they’ve retired or offer transitionalretirement plans that give them access to valued employees who are passing theirnormal retirement age.

    When you keep theemployees you have longer, you at least know what you’re getting. However,when it comes to making new hires, misconceptions about older workers candiscourage HR professionals from giving them a serious look. 

    When talking toexecutives from other companies, Frank has found that there is a misconceptionthat older workers are less productive, making others carry their weight. Hefound that, if anything, the older workers tend to set an example of hard workfor their younger coworkers.

    The biggestmisconception is that older workers will not be in the workforce for long,making them uneconomical, and that they are not as healthy or vital as youngerworkers, says La Donna Burgess, HR coordinator at Poorman-Douglas. The companyhas been recognized as a “Prime Time Employer” by Green Thumb, whichprovides  training and employmentopportunities for older workers. “We’ve found [older workers are] extremelyreliable and very loyal,” she says. “I think they are an excellent workforcefrom an HR perspective. They bring a whole wealth of knowledge and experience aswell as a very strong work ethic.”

    In fact, loyalty isthe top quality of older employees, according to a study of HR managersconducted by AARP. The same study found that older workers have a commitment todoing quality work, can be counted on in a crisis, and have a solid performancerecord.

    You have torecognize that these workers have some needs that are different because of theirlife-stage. While they are not likely to need maternity benefits, they will needhealth care at least until they reach age 65. At that time, they will qualifyfor Medicare. When you are evaluating health-care options for your employees,you will want to consider how providers will interface with Medicare in terms ofintegrating Medicare Part B into your health coverage for your employees who are65 and older. Workers who retire before their normal retirement age (which isgoing up) and who have signed up for Social Security have special financialconsiderations.

    Another factor thatwill require sensitivity on the part of the HR staff is that older workers whohave been out of the job market for a while may need extra support as theyre-enter. Don Andersson, author of the forthcoming Hire for Fit (Oakhill Press,May 2001), says, “It’s a very different workforce into which older workersreturn. Much less personal, often more transactional.” He adds that this cancause added stress for both the worker and for those who work with him or her.

    As you deal witholder workers, you will find that one of the pleasant surprises is the way theylook at their jobs. They bring loyalty, experience, and wisdom. Unlike theunder-35 cohorts, who, according to a study by Xylo, rate perks and salary asthe top two job requirements they seek from an employer, workers age 55 andolder most value a positive work environment and useful information/advice.

    Employers have torealize that there is a crisis developing, and they must find ways to attractqualified workers as the pool of new workers gets smaller, Burgess says. “Youcan’t wait for 10 years to start thinking about this when it becomes a crisis.It’s important to be thinking about your policies and practices today.”Older workers are “a segment of the population you’re going to be wanting toaccess and recognize,” she says. “Start thinking about what their needs areand getting their input so that 10 years from now, you’re the employer ofchoice.”

Workforce, February 2001, Vol80, No 2, pp. 56-62  SubscribeNow!

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