Older employees are an overlooked and underutilised skill and resource. Here’s how to make the most of them in your business:
1. Don’t assume older people want to retire. You may personally long for the day when you can give up work to do nothing, but remember that others may not. Some people find work rewarding and stimulating and it gives them a sense of purpose. Others need to work for financial necessity. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your dream is their dream.
2. Don’t assume they are past it. Put aside any outdated ideas you might have about what old people are like. People over the age of 50 today are an entirely different generation to their parents and grandparents. They are vibrant, energetic and have a lot to give to the workforce through their skills and experience built up over many years.
3. Talk to them. Don’t be nervous when discussing future planning and retirement with older people. Ask them what they would like to do and talk about how that might fit in with the plans you have for the business – it is worth considering phased retirement schemes for example, which can be a good option for both sides. And while you’re at it, ask their advice on how they would like to be managed and supported. If you treat the whole experience as a learning curve for both of you, you may come up with some extremely helpful answers which will be useful for dealing with other older employees.
4. Tap into their knowledge. Use their experience to your advantage by setting up mentoring schemes. Older workers can pass on what they know to younger colleagues, who in turn can give their own insights into new approaches to work. And don’t assume older people are technology-illiterate either. They can be just as good at using new technology as anyone else.
5. Don’t patronise them. Don’t talk down to them and don’t constantly make references to the fact that they are from a different generation. Just because they remember a time before Google existed doesn’t give you a licence to make jokes about ‘the olden days’ in every conversation.
6. Don’t discriminate. Be very careful not to discriminate against older workers in the way that you allocate tasks, or promote, or indeed anything, as you could end up in court facing an unfair discrimination claim. And clamp down immediately on any discriminatory behaviour or remarks by others in the office. Remember that the government abolished the default retirement age of 65 two years ago.
7. Provide training. Older workers might still have another 15 to 20 years left in the workforce, so don’t skimp on training because you are concerned it might not be worth it. It will.
8. Count the advantages. Older workers are more likely to have grown up children than small ones so are less likely to need to be absent for childcare reasons, or to need maternity or paternity leave. They are also less likely to turn up to work tired and hungover after a big night out. Think about it. They could actually be the most reliable workers you will ever have.