Why older recruits can be worthwhile hires for small businesses

Following an urge from the DWP for companies not to overlook senior employees, HR guru Kate Russell talks about the advantages older workers have over their younger counterparts.

These days unless you’re a venerable Cheddar cheese, mature is a very unhip thing to be. Youth is apparently where it’s all at, for no discernible reason that I can see. (I rather think that I might have become a grumpy old woman, though some would say I’ve always been a grumpy old woman and I’ve just grown into the role, so to speak.)

We do hear an awful lot about the lost generation. They’re not lost. We know exactly where they are – under our feet most of the time, yipping that life’s not fair, but not doing much about it (some of them certainly). Well, let’s hear it for older workers, not least because I am one. Throw a sock in any direction and it will hit yet another youth-into-work type worthy enterprise. Of course it is important to look after the young and try and help them, but what about granny – into – work support clubs? You don’t get too many of those to the imperial pound when you’re over 50.

But as employers wring their hands and ask for that seemingly impossible Holy Grail of motivated, literate employees of any age who have a work ethic (they do exist – I know because I’ve snaffled myself three!), I wonder if we should be looking to the older generation to resolve some of our recruitment issues. Possibly not for very physical high wire trapeze type work, but some occupations aside, the older worker does have a lot to offer and these can outweigh the disadvantages (you have to accept that there are always some disadvantages).

What are the arguments in favour of older workers?

Quite often they have higher levels of motivation and take a pride in what they’re doing. Growing up in times when there was an expectation by all parties that workplace rules would be observed without question, they are often more punctual, more neatly dressed, more interested in what they’re doing. They often want to do a good job.

Employers spend a lot of time and money training employees. These days, many of us almost have to teach incoming employees the 3Rs, never mind the technical skills required for the industry. Workers are more mobile and tend to move on to pastures new after a few years. We have to accept that they may well pack up their certificates and move on. Older workers are less inclined to do that so your training investment may therefore get a better level of return.

The older we get the less phased we are by small irritations. When we moved office recently, poor Susie really suffered because we had to ‘rough it’ a bit for a week or two. By this I mean that while our lovely new office was entirely habitable, phones and broadband access were severely limited, making life a bit more awkward in the short term. In fact our one analogue phone was in one of the loos for a few days, until we bought it a nice extension lead and parked it on a desk, pending delivery of our digital lines.

It didn’t bother me all that much. We had a phone, we could both work from home, we had alerted our clients (who found the whole loo thing quite funny). A bit of a nuisance but it was do-able. There’s no point in worrying about what you can’t change, so I didn’t. I know Susie, who is much younger than me, found it madly frustrating. Older workers just shrug and accept. Age brings a degree of wisdom and even patience (especially where BT is concerned where it is absolutely essential for the sake on one’s blood pressure and sanity to stay calm).

Workers of mature years need less supervision and are less likely to challenge inappropriately. I regularly come across employees now who disagree with some aspect of their work and refuse to do it because they don’t want to, rather than because there is a valid reason for refusal. That’s rather tiresome and has to be addressed. You shouldn’t have to fight about job contents. It’s for the employer to determine and for the employee to do. By all means if there are safety issues or the employee has some difficulty, explore it. Having done that, it’s entirely reasonable for the employer to expect the employee to do the job he is paid to do.

I rather like people who can talk and write in clear well – constructed sentences (not just text talk). Older people grew up in a Twitter-free world so they can do that and in consequence they tend to have better interpersonal and communication skills. The ability to communicate in a personal fashion is an essential skill in many businesses. Younger employees do sometimes struggle with this. I’ve seen horrific business emails that look as though they’ve been sent by robots who’d just arrived from Mars. Actually, they were just concocted by youthful employees who didn’t realize that it’s necessary to write in full, grammatically correct sentences.

People like working with people like themselves. One of the advantages of working with older employees is that many business owners and senior officers have reached fairly mature years themselves. Research shows that customers like to interact with people their own age. If you take on older workers, your clients will notice and appreciate it.

I’m not advocating only recruiting older workers (or only recruiting workers from any one group). There are advantages and disadvantages with every group and in the ideal world we want a good mix. I suppose the message is that having a few grey hairs doesn’t mean that someone’s necessarily over the hill.

See also: Better with age? Older workers versus younger workers

Kate Russell

Lonny Watsica

Kate Russell is founder of Russell HR Consulting.

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