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how to keep senior employees:

don’t lose the vested knowledge of an aging workforce.

by Shari Barnes

The most dynamic job market in decades and a decreasing skilled labor pool combine to make employment recruiting one of today’s biggest management frustrations. The good old days when skilled workers vied for positions in your company are gone, and they aren’t likely to return.

The U.S. Census Bureau says you can expect these developments for the next twenty years:
  • The over-65 populace will increase 60%.

  • The 45-65 age group will grow by 54%.

  • The 18-44 population will rise by only 4%.

  • Fewer adults, particularly seniors, are actively seeking work. Early retirement incentives and large stock returns combine to remove more experienced workers from the marketplace every day.

    “Prevailing stereotypes about older people link aging with decline and dependency,” says Phyllis Moen of the Cornell Gerontology Research Institute. “Yet, a growing number of older adults are healthy, skilled, vigorous and independent with possibly twenty to thirty active years beyond retirement.” Managers must work harder to keep experienced workers at the desk instead of on the beach.

    Think Flexible… The forty-hour workweek did not come off the Mayflower with the Pilgrims. It is not a sacred concept. Hilda worked 8 to 5 for thirty years, and she’s not going there anymore. “I’m a night person, and getting out of bed early has always been hard on me,” she says. If you let Hilda come to work at 10, you’ll keep your best accountant. Morton is a widower, and his greatest delight is three grandsons. “I want to volunteer at the kids’ school,” he says. Allow Morton every Wednesday off, and he’ll stay around to keep service desk customers happy.

    Reject Rigid… Those hallowed policies from 1925 have to go. Example: Many companies provide health insurance benefits to full-time employees only. You may be willing to allow reduced schedules, but seniors need benefits as well. Offer health insurance to part-timers, and Hilda and Morton will stay.

    Consider Comfort… Older workers need ergonomically correct workstations even more than the rest of us. Aging muscles appreciate adjustable, padded chairs. Good lighting, safe walking surfaces, headphones and other ergonomic prerequisites provide an environment that encourages a few more years on the job. Extend casual dress beyond Friday.

    Supply Print… Who says all your publications have to be in a 10-point font? Saving paper isn’t that important. Change type-size to 14. Your tri-focaled employees will see again. Reminder: Your customers are getting older, too, and they don’t like to use a magnifying glass for the warranty.

    Try Sabbaticals… The academic world values periodic breaks from the work grind. “Too often people burn out a long time before they retire, and their last years are spent marking time and resisting change,” says journalist Glenn Dromgoole. “We should be trying to cultivate a sabbatical system in more fields to allow mid-career workers to take three to six months off for training, study, travel, and physical and mental rejuvenation. Then, perhaps, more people would be able to remain enthusiastic and productive workers for a longer time.”

    Start Training… According to Jill Barnes, founding director of 40 plus, a UK recruiting firm, “Research shows that given the right training older people are as capable of learning new skills as younger people are.” Provide seniors with the same training opportunities you give Gen X’ers. Age hasn’t halted their ability to grow and learn. Many companies even provide home computers so the learning process continues outside work hours.

    Recruitment problems aren’t a temporary phenomenon. Since gray hair and varicose veins identify some of the best employees, savvy managers develop plans to keep these talented employees. The challenge is convincing seniors to stay on the job instead of hopping the next plane to Tahiti.

    MindData Hint:
    The desirable traits of senior workers are often better defined and more easily matched to measurable results than those of younger workers. Use MindData’s Attitude Indexes to measure the characteristics of your established workforce – before you lose them – and create a template for what you want your newer workforce to evolve into.

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    Sharon (Shari) Eurich Barnes is Director of Employee Relations for Texas Christian University. Complementing her human resource career, Ms. Barnes writes for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Working Mother, Women as Managers and Management Review. She also conducts private and court-ordered mediations.

    In addition to hosting Books in Review on cable television, Ms. Barnes speaks on employment issues for professional associations and conferences.

    Ms. Barnes received her Bachelor's degree from California Baptist University and Master's degree from Texas Christian University. Among other affiliations, she is a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, American Society for Training and Development, American Association of University Women, Fort Worth Human Resource Association Board of Directors (past), College and University Personnel Association, Fort Worth Mayor's Committee for Disabled Persons, and Tarrant County Association of Mediators Board of Directors. Ms. Barnes has also been named to Who's Who Among American Women.

    Comments and questions about this article: Shari Barnes.

    The opinions expressed in articles by this author do not necessarily represent the opinions of MindData. These articles are provided as a means of informing you of current events and opinions that impact employers and the workplace.

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