The Value of Older Workers

ANDY TILLEARD
Health and Safety Consultant at EazySAFE
One of the most significant changes to society in the last few decades has been the change from the industrial age to the information age and one of the most significant components of this has been the improved health of the workforce. Improved health has positively impacted adult mortality and morbidity rates to the extent that for the first time in modern history, we now have a workforce available across the widest age range in our history. Not only are teenagers and university graduates coming into the workplace every year in the normal way but we now also have those at the other end of the scale staying in work for longer and indeed, are in competition for work opportunities.
Confident older employee in business meeting
Mature lady dealing with a customer
“Employers only handle the money – it is the customer who pays the wages”
HENRY FORD

But what is it that older workers bring to the party? Could it be that they tend to be reliable, conscientious, organised and mature – all of which is hardly surprising when life experience teaches you valuable lessons through the years. Let me give you one example from a friend of mine who was an experienced beauty therapist who had worked in London, including working for a top cosmetic brand in Harrods during the 1990’s but who then came back to Ireland to work. Surely she would be able to get a job working here for one of the top cosmetic houses with her extensive experience and proven sales record? You would be wrong. Her crime was being over 40.

Company after company turned down her CV and who were the people interviewing her for these positions? Some twenty somethings with little or no life and work experience and who did not have a fraction of her sales record, customer experience or cosmetic knowledge. Ironically, not only did they exclude her from being a productive member of their organisation but they also missed a great opportunity to develop an expanded potential client base of older female customers with money in their pocket who would be drawn to an ‘older’ woman at a cosmetic counter. Henry Ford famously said “Employers only handle the money – it is the customer who pays the wages” so it would seem to be a poor business decision at the time in an industry that has historically been biased toward the younger demographic.

Population structure by major age groups, EU-28, 2016-80‘ based on Eurostat projections show an aging population in Europe.

Fortunately that overt ageism and myopic business view is changing. Do you now notice top cosmetic brands promoting anti-aging creams and lotions and potions to the older demographic, because you’re worth it? Of course, being 40 is not what is typically considered as an older worker today but the same principle applies. Older workers have not been appreciated or regarded in a positive light but now that is changing and here are some reasons why in today’s very competitive workplace, older workers are making a comeback.

Old Fashioned Values

Remember old fashioned values such as common courtesy, good manners, honesty and punctuality? Older people who are still in the workforce generally have these attributes in spades because they have served them well throughout the years. They are from a pre-social media and smart phone generation where holding a conversation was normal and dealing with people on a one to one basis was not the exception to the rule.

Dealing with Customers

When you have had a lifetime of dealing with people in family, social and work environments that backdrop provides an excellent basis for managing those often crucial customer interfaces where the first impression is so critical. I recently visited a drapery shop in Cork city where all of the ladies serving were from my own generation. They were knowledgeable, confident in themselves and we had a separate conversation about life in general which just would not have been possible with a younger person. I left the shop feeling that the whole interaction had been very pleasant and it would encourage me to visit there again without any problem.

Future Expectations

In developing a career arc, it is almost inevitable that people will move from job to job and from company to company with the aim of working ones way up the slippery ladder of career development. We have all done that ourselves but there is a price to be paid for that. When an employer gives a job to a younger person, this consideration will form a part of the application and suitability process but an older employee will almost certainly have a different perspective, one where they are established and are not looking to move away or get a visa to America or Australia. If high employee turnover is an issue, perhaps having an older age profile of employees can be a significant help.

Intangibles

In our modern society, we almost have a blinkered obsession with third level education which implies that if you don’t have a degree, you almost certainly won’t be able to make a contribution to an organisation. Of course, if you are a scientist, engineer or Doctor or are in another very specialist position, the degree may well be essential but this does not apply across all job positions. Older employees have other often intangible assets and skills that can be brought into the workplace such as organisational skills, experience of dealing with both top level and shop floor workers, able to write clearly and concisely, confidence in making suggestions, recommendations and promoting ideas, have developed good listening skills and presentation abilities, care about their appearance and may have developed excellent inter-personal skills.

Business Benefit

“Encouraging older people to work longer benefits everyone financially and could boost the UK’s GDP long term by 4.2% or up to £80bn”. Whilst older workers can make a contribution, it is inevitable that an aging population will also bring an increased financial burden to the state in terms of health care and pension payments which will be required well into the future. Therefore keeping older workers in the workplace has the dual benefit of earning income, topping up pension pots and paying taxes has to be a positive contribution. “This would boost both GDP and tax revenues, so helping to pay for the increased health, social care and pension costs of an ageing population.”

Healthy Workplaces for All Ages

This week is European Week for Safety and Health at Work and the theme is “Healthy Workplaces for All Ages“. Through this campaign, the EU-OSHA and its partners intend to raise awareness of the importance of a sustainable working life. Employers who provide pleasant, safe and healthy workplaces for employees of all ages will see in improvements in productivity and reduction in staff turnover.

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