Back in the 1970’s, I went to work for a company that grasped the advantage of tapping the female talent in the population. They were aggressively recruiting qualified women into management and professional roles when competitors in that good ol’ boy industry were still expecting them to stay in the kitchen.

My company was a good corporate citizen, but this was not about doing good. By being an “early adopter,” they attracted the creme de la creme. Having capable women in responsible positions made them far more competitive than their contemporaries who were still making do with half the talent–the male stuff.

We are to that same kind of place in 2009. Only this time around, the competitive advantage is in hiring older workers.

Why?

Because they bring a lot more to the dance. Here’s how:

YOU GET MUCH MORE THAN YOU PAY FOR. It’s like getting a Ferrari for the price of a Miata. Forget the foolish business about “overqualified.” Many older workers are ready to throttle back but not ready to stop working. They will step into a non-management job after years of running the whole show and be content with that. A former neighbor, a retired Army colonel and high-end management consultant, is happy as a clam driving a bus for the local transit authority. Would a twenty-something with no experience dealing with difficult people do as well?

And if they ARE willing to manage for you, the value of their experience is exponential.

OLDER WORKERS HAVE BETTER WORK HABITS Inaccurate stereotypes lead hiring supervisors to assume that older workers can’t perform the way younger workers do. That they will miss work or not get as much done.

Assuming the superstar whose resume you’re about to toss will do that, when you have no idea of her personal work history, is absurd. She may have missed two days in 30 years. Don’t rely on unfounded assumptions to rule out older workers.

A recent study of the work habits of 3000 rank and file employees in 39 different organizations found that those younger than 26 were substandard on all six categories: work standards, safety awareness, reliability/follow-through, attendance, punctuality, and avoidance of disciplinary actions. Workers in the 26 to 45 age range were average on all six. Of the six categories, workers ages 46 to 55 were above average on four. And workers over 56 were twice as far above average on four of the six and above average on a fifth. If your hiring needs lean heavily on work habits, you should be looking for people with gray hair. Unless you’re selling body piercing or long boards, you shouldn’t be ruling them out for any job you have open.

YOU BROADEN YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC APPEAL. Unless you’re selling youth-exclusive products, having someone on staff who does NOT answer “Thank you” with “No problem” is a plus. If you want to appeal to the full range of customers, you need a full range of ages to serve them.

Two weeks ago, I was checking out at the grocery store I’ve used for five years. The checker, who was young, talked with the woman behind me in line–a co-worker–the whole time she worked on my order. Then part of the order never made it back into my basket–or to my car. I had to go back to the store a second time for it.

The young checkers again barely acknowledged me. Not “I’m so sorry this happened.” Just “Well..uh… do this and this and this and then stand in that line.” It was a very long line.

I solved the immediate problem after a bit of a wait. I solved the rest when I walked out the door. I will never go back there.

Lots of older customers vote with their feet. Don’t let them walk out forever because you have the wrong people serving them.

THIS IS THE AGE GROUP WITH THE MONEY The biggest irony in all this is that the over 50 crowd is the population that actually has money to spend. They own upwards of 70 percent of the financial assets. Their per capita discretionary spending is two and a half times the average of younger households. They hold almost half of all the credit cards in the United States.

You need people who think like them on your team so you can capture that business. THIS IS A GROWTH MARKET. Leave your competitors to duke it out over the twenty-somethings whose credit has just dried up.

To curry this market, you need to have a connection to it. Your marketing, strategic planning, and customer service functions need people who can relate because they are over 50 themselves.

We can look in other directions for why to employ older workers. Those are more in the realm of ethics and law. We don’t need to go there. The competitive advantages of hiring highly qualified older workers are more than enough to justify doing it.

Copyright (c) 2009 Mary Lloyd

Mary Lloyd consults to businesses on how to attract and use older talent and offers seminars for individuals on how to make retirement meaningful. She is the author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. She’s also available as a speaker. To see more about how to capitalize on the pluses of older workers go to => http://www.mining-silver.com .

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