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Advocating for older workers: 8 practical and beneficial attributes

by Kathryn Hubbell

There are many reports out there telling older workers that no one wants them, or that they will have a lot of difficulty finding a job. One such report in U.S. News two years ago listed misconceptions about older workers, such as short terms on the job if they planned to retire soon, higher salary expectations and reluctance to report to younger bosses.

Fortunately, a number of articles since than have refuted the myths, advocating why hiring older workers is a very good idea. Brian Solis, an expert in social media public relations and whose work I frequently use in my classes, reminds us that one of the things Baby Boomers bring to the office is a “raw work ethic.” He gives an excellent guide to Millennials navigating the workplace in this article and advocates for mutual respect between the generations.

I teach a lot of older workers, and I’m one myself. Let me weigh in for a moment on some of the great, practical attributes older workers bring to their jobs – and by “older,” I don’t just mean Baby Boomers. I also mean workers aged 35 to 70 or so, encompassing at least a couple of generations.

1. This isn’t their first rodeo. Nearly all older workers have either held a job recently, or are currently holding one while going to school. I’ve always said that when I tell my adult students to turn left, they turn left; when I tell them to march straight ahead, they do; if I say it’s time to jump, they jump as high as they can. This comes from knowing what it takes to hold down a job; they know how to follow instructions. They will readily ask for clarification and the rationale for those instructions, which I always appreciate. They want the whole picture.

2. Older workers have learned to take criticism – constructive or not. They’ve developed fairly thick skins over the years, and if they need to hear something negative in order to improve their performance, then so be it.

3. No, older workers are not as enamored with social media, but they know how to use those social media outlets in a very important way – as an implementation of sound business strategy. Moreover, older workers are keenly aware that social media tools are just that: tools for communicating. Actual communication depends upon content, response and a two-way conversation. It doesn’t depend on the latest online innovation.

4. Older workers know that what is fast is not always better.

5. Older workers tend to be loyal to their employers. For the most part, they aren’t job-hopping and looking for the next, exciting opportunity somewhere across the country. They work because they need to work, even up to and often beyond the age of 70, and because they like to work and value the feeling of being needed. They are often content with part-time jobs and flexible schedules. We live in a society that does not value us as we age. What a waste. We have vast repositories of information and experience to pass along. We are the storytellers.

6. As much as older workers know that fast is not always better, they can be extremely fast at the jobs they’re assigned – because they’ve done all this before. If a senior public relations practitioner takes three sheets of information and writes a press release from that information in about half an hour, it’s because she knows how to cull out the information that isn’t really relevant, important or necessary. That ability to cut to the chase comes from years of experience, and from years of developing a mind that thinks strategically and is capable of seeing the consequences of decisions.

7. Older workers make great mentors and teachers to the younger generations coming up through the ranks. Having a huge amount of energy is great for any business, yes; but so is having someone with a steadying hand on the tiller, who can help steer a ship that might start to careen off course. That larger perspective is a valuable and steadying influence.

8. Finally, older workers know how the world works. They don’t tend to be so singularly focused that the changes in society and the world around them are surprising or a mystery to them. They’ve been dealing with people and situations and circumstances for a long time, and the result is that they understand the needs of their employers and of other people.

What attributes of older workers do you find beneficial?

Kathryn Hubbell is an instructor for the Department of Communication Studies at Marylhurst University. She is the owner of AdScripts, Inc. and has more than 30 years experience in public relations, marketing and advertising.