Gray is the New Best Hire

Gray is Good at Some Companies

Traditionally, many employers have viewed older workers as inflexible, less productive than their younger colleagues, and more expensive because of higher salaries and health-care costs. When hard times force layoffs, older workers have often been the first to get the ax. But now, according to an article gray is good at some companies which are taking concrete steps to retain older workers.

In the process, these companies are rooting out age bias and setting up complex flexible work arrangements tailored to meet older workers’ needs. They are also seeking out older workers and retirees with needed skills.

For employers, the writing on the wall is hard to miss, the article pointed out. Workers 55 and older are growing four times faster than the work force as a whole. This age group accounts for more than 20 percent of the labor force, up from less than 16 percent in 2006, Bureau of Labor Statistics show. In the same period, people in the prime working years, ages 25 to 44, will shrink to 43 percent of the work force from 46 percent now.

Some companies are recognizing that older workers are repositories of hard-to replace knowledge critical to their businesses. For example, as workers retire, he said, companies worry about losing relationships with long-time suppliers and distributors.

In addition, as the work force ages, so do customers, who often prefer to deal with older workers. At Home Depot, older employees serve as a powerful draw to baby-boomer shoppers by mirroring their knowledge and perspective, said Dennis Donovan, executive vice president, human resources, for the retailer. Similarly a big Australian financial services concern, recruited over-45 workers as financial planners, among other roles. Older clients, a spokeswoman said, prefer advisers with experience.

The new attitudes come as age-discrimination complaints are falling, the article noted. Although some serious cases do remain, preliminary Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data show age-discrimination complaints to the commission decreased.

Other companies are encouraging older workers to continue part-time, offering up to three months’ unpaid time for vacation during the winter months, and making phased retirement more broadly available–allowing workers to slowly shift out of the work force and cut their hours for awhile before retiring, according to the article.