Why Experience Counts: The Benefits of Hiring Older Workers
Experience counts in the business world. There are tremendous benefits of hiring older workers that many companies leave behind in their quest to be young and hip. If young, hip and millennial doesn’t fit your brand, why go for it? Go for talent first in your quest to hire the best.
“They wanted me gone.”
Anne (not her real name) and I talked over a cup of tea the other day about how the new management which had taken over the company she’d worked for had not-so-subtly and very subtly tried to force her out. An elegant, fit 70-something, Anne had worked for XYZ Corporation for over 25 years.
When she first went to work for XYZ, Anne was the only woman in the six-person office. “It was a true old boy’s network,” she said. “They gave me the assignments that nobody else wanted. The little work. The fluff work. I did it without complaint. Then, I gradually did harder and harder work.”
Eventually, Anne ran her department. She did so for seven years until XYZ was purchased by ABC Company. And that’s when the trouble began.
“The new manager – let’s call him Dirk – decided that our products needed a younger, fresh vibe,” she smirked over the edge of her teacup. “It was all wrong for what we were doing, of course. I knew that and so did the others on staff who had been there for many years. We know the community; we know the product they want; we know what appeals to them. But Dirk was adamant about this young millennial thing.”
Every week, it seemed to Anne, more of her colleagues were let go. And it wasn’t a coincidence that it was the silver-haired set and those with strong opinions who were let go first.
“Friday staff meetings were a nightmare,” she said. “We wondered who would be left by lunchtime.”
A Campaign of Intimidation
Anne wasn’t fired. She was too valuable to the organization. By the time ABC had acquired XYZ, Anne was running eight areas of the company and was the go-to person for industry knowledge.
That didn’t stop Dirk and his team for making her feel unwelcome. “They started a private Facebook group and I wasn’t invited in,” she said . “They assumed I was too old to understand social media.”
Gradually, they made Anne’s work-life so miserable, she quit. “One day, I just walked into Dirk’s office, handed him my resignation, and walked out,” she said. “It was the best move I ever made.”
Millennials Didn’t Understand the Customers
Yes, discrimination based on age, as well as gender, sexual orientation, skin color, and medical conditions is illegal. It still goes on in the workplace.
Anne decided to let it go. She was in her 70s. She had consulting opportunities to pursue and her passion for painting. She shrugged it off and moved on.
Dirk hired a young go-getter to fill Anne’s position.
Within a week, customer complaints began to fill his inbox.
Within a month, sales began to fall.
By the end of the quarter, all of Anne’s long-time, loyal customers had fled to the competitor, leaving Dirk red-faced as he explained to leadership why sales were falling.
Meanwhile, the youngster he had hired, although well-meaning, lacked Anne’s business savvy. He missed deadlines. He insisted customers do things his way. Soon, Anne’s phone rang.
It was Sam, Dirk’s boss.
“Anne,” he pleaded, “can you come back and teach the new kid how to run the division?”
“Not if you paid me double,” she said.
The Benefits of Hiring – and Retaining – Older Workers
Anne’s story underscores an important point. Older workers, especially those with seniority in a company, provide leadership and business skills that younger workers rarely possess.
It’s not that younger workers don’t try. Anne’s replacement had recently graduated from a top-notch business school with an impressive degree. But he lacked the real-world experience, especially in the industry and among the local community that XYZ served, that Anne had gained over 20 years.
XYZ made a classic mistake too in that they thought their customers wanted younger, modern ideas. Their customers didn’t want that. Instead, the real issues hidden in the falling sales figures were quality issues with the product. All the young, fresh marketing ideas in the world wouldn’t help the falling sales figures if customers kept returning the products or defecting to the competition.
Anne knew this, of course. She had alerted Dirk to the problems in quality when he first arrived. But Dirk brushed her off, thinking “What does this old woman know?” Plenty, as it turned out.
5 Benefits of Hiring Older Workers
Seasoned workers have a lot to offer to their employers. The following five benefits of hiring older workers should make companies like XYZ think twice before replacing their seasoned staff.
- Offer broad, deep and rich industry knowledge that cannot be learned quickly by newcomers
- Understand the nuances of communication, especially traditional forms of communication such as telephone etiquette, letter writing, and more.
- Provide company insights and big-picture thinking.
- Exemplify leadership skills thanks to a lifetime of experience
- Demonstrate confidence in tough or stressful situations because they’ve “been there, done that.”
I once worked with a former Vietnam veteran. He had a jagged scar on his jaw and walked with a slight limp. “Landmine,” he said once in a terse response to my question.
Nothing phased this man and I know why. When you’ve faced Vietcong in the jungles of Asia and lived to tell about it, bearing scars that you see every time you look in the mirror, the vicissitudes of economic downturns, the gains and losses of the business, and the daily stressors of the workplace pale by comparison.
There are many benefits of hiring older workers, just as there are benefits of hiring younger ones, too. Hiring millennials makes sense and so does hiring older workers. The key is to give both a chance and to fit people, not age groups, into the right jobs. The right job for the right person will end up benefiting your company more than making broad assumptions based on age.
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