Although mandatory retirement has been illegal in most industries for decades, age discrimination in the workplace is still a very real issue. Some managers continue to be reluctant to hire and retain older workers. Frequently workers of Baby Boomer age and older are characterized as inflexible, slower and reluctant to evolve with technology. But most open-minded employers find that today’s older workers dispel those stereotypes. Here are 8 ways most Baby Boomers (and older) enhance the workplace:
1. They have a strong work ethic. Baby Boomers and Traditionalists are known for a strong work ethic. Even when there is no significant financial incentive like a bonus to work toward, they were brought up to always work hard and honor their commitments.
2. They’re great to have around if the Internet or power goes out! Having worked for most of their careers without access to the internet and social media, they may sometimes be even more resourceful than younger colleagues who are dependent on the Internet for research and problem-solving.
3. They have good interpersonal communication skills. While we all depend on email, texting and social media more than ever, older workers have spent most of their careers relying on their people skills. They have lots of practice with in-person and phone discussions and typically have mastered body language and tone of voice inflection necessary to communicate a message effectively.
4. They are patient. While lightening-speed technology has probably made us all a little impatient, older workers frequently have more patience than younger ones. They know many things don’t get done immediately (e.g. promotions, decisions about policies, etc.) and this patience can take the pressure off busy managers.
5. They are more likely to take the long view. Seasoned older workers look down the road. They have experience weathering difficult situations in the workplace. Typically, they are willing to work through challenges in workplace relationships, projects and even organizational changes with an employer.
6. They are thinking about their legacy. Some of the best work products and ideas come from older workers who want to retire with pride. Because of this mindset about legacy…
7. They can be effective mentors. Older workers who have been with an organization a long time possess institutional knowledge that can be passed on to Generation X and Millennials. They often are honored to impart best practices to younger generations interested in learning from them.
8. They often relate more naturally to older customers and clients. Since a third of Americans are 50+ and 14 percent of the population is over 65, there is a demand for sensitivity to the needs of older customers. Because our generational affiliation shapes much of the way we communicate, having an age diverse workforce is ideal, particularly in industries like healthcare, media, retail, and hospitality. Workers Baby Boomer-age and older instinctively communicate in ways older customers and clients appreciate (e.g. thank you notes, phone calls). While most organizations are aware of the benefits of maintaining a diverse workforce (gender, race, culture) many still don’t recognize how much of an asset age diversity can be.
Older workers have so much to offer — experience, work ethic, potential to mentor and valued communication skills. The best strategy in managing and accommodating older workers is the same as with employees of any age: observe, identify individual strengths and weaknesses and work with that person to optimize performance.
Gerontologist Jennifer L. Fitzpatrick, MSW, CSP helps organizations boost productivity and profits through generational awareness. She is also an adjunct gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University. Her first book Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing The Stress of Caring For Your Loved One will be published in September. You can find her at www.jenniferfitzpatrick.com