Making the Case for the Older Worker

“Our company doesn’t want to,” you say. “Older workers cost more. They can’t keep up with technology. They’re likely to use a lot of sick leave and have more on-the-job injuries. Older workers aren’t as adaptable or creative as younger workers. Spending money to train them is a waste of resources since they won’t be around long term.  They’ll produce less, and detract from the fresh, vital image our company wants to project.”

Such are the myths about older workers. Yes, myths! A close look at each one reveals their fallacies.

Older workers don’t necessarily cost more than their younger replacements. Sure, they typically earn a higher salary and are entitled to more leave benefits. Yet, the training costs for younger workers may add as much as 93 percent to the cost of a first year salary. Additionally, actual benefits and accident costs are usually less for older workers. Statistics show that older employees use fewer sick leave days than younger workers because they suffer fewer acute illnesses and don’t take sporadic leave days to care for dependent children. According to MetLife, employees over the age of 50 use 45 percent fewer sick leave days than employees between the ages of 25 and 35. Older workers have fewer dependents on insurance policies and have fewer on-the-job accidents. Seniors who receive Medicare may need only a supplemental insurance policy, substantially cheaper than full health insurance.

As for technology, you can teach the proverbial old dog new tricks. Studies show that older workers are just as capable as younger ones to learn new technological skills. While they may be more likely to ask what was wrong with the old technology, they are just as capable of learning the skills once training begins.

Surprisingly, older workers use less sick time and have fewer on-the-job injuries than younger workers. They are usually past the stage of childrearing which produces the cycle of sick child-sick parent.

It is also untrue that older workers are not creative. Studies show that the intelligence level of older employees stays the same as younger employees. And, remarkably, 80 percent of the most worthwhile new production ideas come from the 40+ workforce.

Companies don’t waste financial resources when they train older workers on new technology or systems. Unlike their younger, more mobile counterparts, older workers are not likely to engage in job hopping. Further, given the rapid obsolescence of modern technology, the length of the older employee’s work life frequently can be expected to exceed the useful life of technology or system innovation.

Productivity levels of older workers also surpass those of their more junior peers. Their productivity is high due to their accuracy, dependability and judgment. Employee phone calls to babysitters or boyfriends/girlfriends, personal e-mails, fraternization at the water cooler, downloading MP3 files, shopping online, Internet browsing, and general personal primping costs the average employer more than 28 percent of the total productivity of their employees according to university studies. For employees over the age of 50, such personal activity diminishes to an average of 9 percent. So while companies may be paying older workers a higher salary, they are most likely getting more productivity for their dollars than they are from their less senior workers.

Companies that don’t think that older workers fit in with their “fresh” image will be setting themselves up for age discrimination claims and a loss of customer base. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Michigan Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act both prohibit discrimination with regard to the hire or tenure of employment on the basis of one’s age.

One also cannot underestimate the negative impact that the loss of senior workers has on the institutional memory of a company. Nor can one undervalue the benefit that can be derived by having senior workers mentor younger ones.

So how does a company which realizes the value of the older worker recruit or retain such talent? The answer lies largely in two things—the corporate environment of the company and the establishment of a benefit package that is appealing to the older worker.

Companies should establish an environment and culture that are friendly to older workers. To that end, they must eliminate negative age stereotypes that tend to diminish the value of the worker over the age of 50. Companies should identify themselves as equal employment opportunity employers who value workers of all ages. They must insure that employment opportunities, such as job vacancies, transfer and promotional opportunities, are available to all workers no matter what their age. Further, training opportunities must be available to all in the workforce and designed to address multiple learning styles. Using older workers as mentors will make the most of their loyalty, productivity and experience in providing cross-generational training to employment teams.

Companies should also reexamine their benefit packages to make them more appealing to the older worker. The following are examples of such benefits:

•          Discounted or free financial planning services

•          Flexible work arrangements that allow a worker to winter in Florida or spend the summer up north

•          Job sharing

•          Part-time employment

•          Telecommuting

•          Tax-free retirement health accounts which allow employees to save pre-tax dollars that won’t be taxed later if used for healthcare expenses in retirement

•          Phased retirement programs

•          Training programs and refresher courses

•          Discounts or paid premiums for gap insurance

•          Health plans that cover second generation family dependents, such as grandchildren

•          Carpooling or evening shuttle service

•          Group rates for long-term care or long-term disability insurance

Companies don’t lose out when they hang on to their older workers.  Employing seasoned workers pays golden rewards for everyone.

Karen Bush Schneider is a shareholder with White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini, PC, a law firm specializing in employment and benefits law.








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