“Age Appropriate: Plan Ways to Make Use of Older Workers and Their Knowledge” by Barbara Bowes, President of Legacy Bowes Group

Oct 11, 2010 | Corporate Member News

If you listen to the commercials, you’ll hear advertisements that suggest the word older means age 40-45. Some commercials selling life insurance focus on older adults in the range of age 40-70 (all without a health exam.)

But no matter what, these commercials seem to focus on disability rather than ability. So what message are they giving? The message is that anyone over 40 is considered old, declining, frail, forgetful, resistant to learning and not as productive as they used to be. Tell that to Hazel McCallion, mayor of Mississauga for 11 consecutive terms. She’s running again at age 89.

It is frightening to realize that the messages and stories that children and young people hear today are not coming from parents or schools; instead, the messages are coming from large corporations. And their motive is to sell, sell, sell. Our children and young people and society at large, for that matter, are being socialized to believe that anyone over 40 is old. In my view, this whole notion is balderdash. And since I am over 40, I find this message offensive.

Barbara Bowes

Yet, we have to accept that our population is indeed aging and this will create pressure on the overall labour supply in the workforce. But I doubt we will experience a “tsunami-like” exodus of these older workers. In fact, the most recent information from Statistics Canada suggests that the employment rate for seniors aged 65 and older increased to 15 per cent for men and six per cent for women. Many seniors in the low-income bracket are working full time while those in higher level brackets are working part time.

Another recent study showed that competition in the marketplace for company internships is strong as older workers are now also vying for these opportunities.

What’s going on? In my view, part of the answer lies in the fact that work satisfies so many personal and psychological needs.

If you ask an older worker why they are still working, you will probably hear that retirement didn’t satisfy their need for friendship and socialization. You will also often hear from older workers that once the first year of retirement passed, their intellectual needs were not being met. They needed some challenge.

On the other hand, at a certain stage in life, an older worker does truly have the ability to make a decision to leave the workforce. And it is this issue that employers need to worry about because if they have not made arrangements to transfer knowledge to someone else in the organization, as each older worker leaves, knowledge and experience will leave with them.

As a result, employers need to protect themselves and their business from the potential of an older worker brain drain. They need to consider how to encourage their older workers to stay at work while finding ways to transfer knowledge to others. This knowledge transfer process can begin by following these guidelines:

Conduct a talent management survey– — This will help you determine all of the skills within your organization and where the gaps might be. In most cases, you will find hidden talent that is underutilized.

Develop a succession/replacement plan — For every position in your organization, you need to identify at least three people who could fill that position and identify how prepared each would be to move into the role immediately or in the short or long term.

Create development plans for internal candidates — Identify what needs to be done for individuals to be prepared to move into various positions. Include internal hands-on experience as well as short-term assignments, in addition to any external training opportunities.

Develop an external candidate network — It is best to get to know other potential candidates in your industry sector. Keep track of them, learn more about them and be ready to approach them when the time comes for an external candidate.

Examine your HR policies — The key to success in retaining older workers is flexibility. In their stage of life, they want more control of their time. They may have elder-care responsibilities or simply wish to travel for a short period. Adjust your HR policies to allow for flextime, job share, short-term leaves, or sabbaticals. Be creative.

Create formal mentorship programs — Assign older workers to mentor younger workers, but also consider the reverse. Younger workers are often much more computer literate. Consider having these individuals mentor the older workers.

Create an age/skills mix — Your competitive edge in the future will be the fact that your organization has a multi-generational, multicultural organization. This mix of age and skills will create a sense of vibrancy and synergy that will drive productivity and success.

Invest in training and development — The myth that “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” is wrong. Continue offering training and development to all of your staff. Be sure to offer both technical training and training in the elements of emotional intelligence as people relationships will become even more important as we move through the next century.

Hold internal job fairs – get creative! — Think about where else an older worker might be able to contribute to your organization. Let them consider a transfer to another department or to work part time. Learning new things is an energizer for anyone.

Redefine age in your organization — Philosophically, you need to redefine age and to look at this from several perspectives. When preparing your HR policies think about how they will affect the issues of age, generation identity, life course, career stage and transferable skills. You can no longer predict group behavior through these elements but instead, you must look at each employee as an individual and focus on meeting their personal and psychological needs.

As an organizational leader, your goal is to create a workforce with the right demographic age mix so that the talent and skill pipeline remains strong. And so, toss out those old myths of age and create your own organizational truths.

Source: More Seniors Working and All Ages Keen for Internships, Canadian HR Reporter, Sept, 2010

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a Manitoba-based talent management solutions firm. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of the newly released bestseller, Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at [email protected] 

This initially appeared in the September 25, 2010 edition of The Winnipeg Free Press

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