Seriously threatening the bottom line of many American businesses today, there lurks a significant crisis—the loss of the institutional memory of experience and knowledge housed in the minds of the ageing workers.
Alex Haley wrote, “When a person dies, a library burns.”
Perhaps even better stated comes this, adapted from Deuteronomy:
We build on foundations we did not lay.
We warm ourselves at fires we did not light.
We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.
We drink from wells we did not dig.
We profit from persons we did not know.
We are forever bound with those before us.
Rebecca is a perfect example. A senior executive with a large financial institution, Rebecca left her company with a comfortable early-out retirement package. Two situations ensued:
1) Rebecca didn’t feel like retiring and was quickly snapped up by a smaller organization because of her wisdom and experience.
2) Rebecca’s former employer very quickly realized that few people in Rebecca’s old department had anywhere near the knowledge, insights and experience that Rebecca had. The company discovered they wanted Rebecca back and were willing to do just about anything to get her back.
Despite predictions of a declining educated pool of labor being available in the coming decades to fill the void from Boomers retiring, many companies, like Rebecca’s, have made the costly mistake of ignoring the pending shortfall—a shortfall of 33 percent according to the Department of Labor.
American jobs requiring college degrees are projected to increase 20 million over the next several years, yet the average college and university graduation rates are predicted to drop by 6 million.
The reality is that some companies think they’ve prepared for this brain drain by extrapolating insights from ageing people and developing training programs based on their experience and knowledge. Others think they’ve covered things by storing knowledge in data banks.
According to Inc. Magazine, there are more than 76,000,000 Americans reaching the age of 60 and beyond who either can’t or don’t want to stop working. And according to Peter Cappelli, professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, ageing individual’s job performance and abilities get “mind-blowing better with age”—especially in areas increasingly key to success, like interpersonal skills and teamwork.
It has been said that 60 is the new 40. And because people are living longer today, it takes more money than before to provide for necessities. And even when money is not an issue, people are often just eager to contribute value to an employer. Add to this the fact that many employers can’t stop complaining today about many of their new, younger workers—many calling them the “employees from hell.” So why risk hiring employees from hell when you can hire or retain an older, seasoned and reliable employee? In fact, here are 10 terrific traits from Career Builder that point out why hiring or retaining ageing workers may serve employers better:
- Committed. Because they’ve been there, done that, ageing workers are more committed to getting things right, thus they catch the potential mistakes of less experienced workers, saving organizations embarrassments and money.
- Job Pride. Experience has taught ageing workers to value a job well done, thus they often put in time well beyond what is expected to ensure quality in performance.
- Time-Sensitive. Because many ageing workers don’t “have” to work and are at their jobs because they “want” to be there, they are sensitive to being on time and meeting deadlines.
- Candor. Because ageing workers are at a state in their lives where they no longer have to worry about promotions, they tend to be more willing to be candid, forthright and dedicated to the truth. Politics is useless, thus they tend to be more willing to tell the truth and accept accountability, which benefits everybody.
- Listening. Experienced workers understand the downside of ineffective listening, thus they probably only have to be told once.
- Patient. Ageing workers have mellowed, thus they often have more patience handling problems and calming unhappy customers.
- Confidence. Because they have built up confidence through the years, experienced workers tend to be more willing to share their ideas with others, including mentoring younger teammates.
- Maturity. Because they’ve been through a variety of experiences, maturity enables them to more easily “go with the flow” when problems occur, bringing a stability factor to handling the unexpected.
- Diplomacy. Ageing workers understand from experience how to diplomatically approach differences in opinions and eliminate stress.
- Customer Focused. Because ageing workers have greater depth of knowledge and experience, they have a greater understanding of the true meaning of customer service. Plus, they’re old enough to have experienced true customer service, thus remember what great customer service really is!
The bottom line is, ageing workers, blended with bright, younger talent, can greatly enhance any organization whether they are integrated into the workforce on a full-time or part-time basis. So why not consider blending generations for the benefit of all?