Report: Hiring Older Workers Makes Good Business Sense

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 3, 2015

Here’s a sound strategy for America’s CEOs to follow to improve their corporation’s bottom line. AARP’s recently released study suggests, just hire or retain older workers.

An AARP study, released on April 27, discredits widespread myths and misconceptions about age 50+ employees, showing that they have skills and abilities that can make them key to operating a successful business. The report, “A Business Case for Workers Age 50+: A Look at the Value of Experience 2015,” says that the argument for employing older employees has grown even stronger during the last decade, reinforcing a 2005 AARP study that found that these experienced workers are highly motivated, productive and even cost-effective.

Researchers claim that this study documents for the “first time why attracting and retaining experienced age 50+ workers is critical for businesses seeking an advantage in the labor market.”

Older Workers Sound Investment

“Leading employers across all industries value the expertise and experience of workers 50+ and know that recruiting, retaining and engaging them will improve their business results,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins in her statement on the releasing the 92 page report.

Just as today’s 50+ population is disrupting aging and eroding negative stereotypes, today’s 50+ workforce is adding value by exhibiting traits that are highly sought after in today’s economy,” Jenkins added.

Adds Roselyn Feinsod, senior partner at Aon Hewitt, a multinational company providing human resources, retirement and health solutions, that prepared this report, “Workers age 50+ are highly valuable within many organizations – particularly in those industries that require highly skilled workers or workers with unique skill sets, such as health care or energy.”

Researchers say that the AARP report comes at a time when experienced workers are playing an increasing role in America’s workplace. In 2002, workers age 50+ made up only 24.6 percent of the workforce. By 2012, they were 32.3 percent. By 2022, they are projected to represent 35.4 percent of the nation’s total workforce.

The AARP new study addresses a widespread misconception that older workers cost “significantly more” than younger workers. In fact, adding more talented older employees to your workforce can result in only minimal labor cost increases, says the researchers, noting that 90 percent of large employers now base pay in part on job performance, rather than exclusively on length of employment.

In addition, in terms of retirement costs, only 22 percent of large companies now offer a defined benefit pension plan, down significantly from the 68 percent in 2004.
Looking at the 50+ segment of the workforce from a performance standpoint, AARP and Aon Hewitt say that older workers remain the most engaged age group. The study reports that 65 percent of workers age 55+ are considered “engaged”, based on survey data, while younger employee engagement averages 58 to 60 percent.

Although the generational differences in engagement might not seem large, “it takes only a five percent increase in engagement to achieve three percent incremental revenue growth,” the report finds. This can translate into a large company with $5 billion in revenue achieving a $150 million revenue increase as a result of even a five percent engagement improvement, the study says.

The report concludes “An engaged older workforce can influence and enhance organizational productivity and generate improved business outcomes.” Other advantages of older workers include their job experience, professionalism, strong work ethic, lower turnover, and knowledge.
AARP commissioned the study to assess the advantages of both retaining and attracting older workers. The analysis relies primarily on data from Aon Hewitt databases, an extensive literature review and interviews with 18 large employers to obtain anecdotal information on how they approach older workers.

Contributing to Rhode Island’s Economy

“We have noted in the past the relevance of Rhode Island’s so-called Longevity Economy,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Despite being just 36% of Rhode Island’s population in 2013 (expected to grow to 38% by 2040), the total economic contribution of the state’s 50-plus population accounted for 46% of Rhode Island’s GDP ($24 billion). Now we see another reason to embrace the older population.

Connell notes that “This new report reinforces the value of older Rhode Islanders as they continue to be a key asset in the workforce. It is especially good to have reliable data that exposes the false concept that older workers cost significantly more than younger workers. The truth is, that older workers increase labor costs minimally while contributing experience and stability to businesses across the spectrum.

“Many employers in Rhode Island understand this. AARP Rhode Island gets frequent calls from business actively seeking older workers. They know the value and the wisdom they bring to the workplace,” says Connell.

According to Charles Fogarty, Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), the recently released AARP study helps his agency spread this message, “older workers are expected to play a key role in sparking Rhode Island’s comeback.”

“We support policies and programs to help this crucial segment remain active in the labor force by connecting older workers to services and training,” says Fogarty, noting that AARP’s study confirms, “our seniors are a valuable asset in our workforce given their wealth of knowledge, ability to mentor younger colleagues, and commitment to hard work.”

Deputy Director Lisa D’Agostino, of the state’s Department of Labor and Training agrees with DEA’s Fogarty. “Age 50+ workers are a talented segment of our workforce that is often overlooked and untapped when businesses seek workforce solutions. Given today’s demand for a skilled workforce the solution is simple – mature workers can bring the talent, leadership and work ethic employers need,” she says, noting that labor force participation for this group is on the rise and unemployment rates are lower than that of the prime working age population and have been for the last ten years.

Oak Hill resident Hank Rosenthal, 64, confirms the importance and value of hiring older workers. But, during his two-year job search, after being laid off, he experienced job discrimination, he claims. “Having been interviewed by numerous Human Resource professionals, they just seem incapable of understanding that the years of experience someone has gained is an asset. They seem unable to appreciate that knowledge, experience, and even skills acquired over a lifetime can be transferred and used in virtually any organization or business,” he says.

Rosenthal, now gainfully employed, views his older contemporaries as being “more stable, reliable, have better work ethics and generally make great employees, in line with the observations of the AARP report. With the difficulty in finding employment he believes that companies have not figured this out yet. “What a terrible waste of human capital,” he says.

While older workers may be forced to continuing working to pay their bills, many employees will take jobs for both psychological and social fulfillment. Hiring and retaining older workers may be a simple way for American businesses to maintain their competitiveness in a world economy. The report says that this can easily be accomplished by having “flexible workplaces, options for transitioning to retirement and fostering generational diversity and inclusion.” The AARP report is a must read for any CEO or Human Resource Director.

For the full report, go to http://www.aarp.org/research/topics/economics/info-2015/business-case-older-workers.html.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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Job Hunting No Easy Chore as You Grow Older

Published in the Pawtucket Times, November 29, 2013

Last Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics brought bad news to over 57,000 job-less Rhode Islanders. According to the federal agency, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 9.2 percent is the nation’s second highest, followed by Nevada’s rate that is one percent higher. Compare this to 7.3 percent, the national jobless rate for that month.

When hearing about the Ocean State’s national distinction of having one of the highest unemployment rates among fifty states, Henry Rosenthal, an Oak Hill, Pawtucket resident since 1955, who has been unemployed for 16 months, called it a “real disgrace. The dismal statistics released only confirmed what the older job hunter personally knows from sending out hundreds of resumes, it’s an extremely tough job market.

Older Job Seeker Can’t Find Work

But, to make matters worse, 63-year-old Rosenthal, and other aging baby boomers, will bluntly tell you that age discrimination is derailing their efforts of finding meaningful work that pays a decent wage and benefits.

Even if you totally believe that your age keeps you from getting a job, it is not always easy to sue because it is tough to prove, says Rosenthal.

In April 2012, his Dallas-based employer downsized, which led to Rosenthal losing his sales job of selling loan origination software to banks. Throughout his 45 year employment career, he had a very stable employment record. He only recalls two other jobs that were lost due to his lack of seniority when corporate mergers occurred.

Rosenthal, a graduate of Temple University, had always been able to find a new position quickly when losing a job because of his “skill set and previous work experience,” he says.

But today things are different.

Rhode Island’s puttering economy has kept Rosenthal from easily landing a new position. In the few times he was able to get his foot in the door for an interview, he was told afterwards that he was “perfectly qualified” for the position, in some instances even over-qualified, but ultimately he received no job offer.

“I honestly believe that jobs have not been offered to me because of age,” charges Rosenthal, who believes that ”younger people who oversee the hiring tend to be intimated with the older job applicants and feel threatened.”

Although it is against federal law [The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967] to ask applicants how old they are, “it’s easy to figure out how old a person is,” notes Rosenthal. “By asking when you graduated high school and college a company can figure out your age,” he says.

It’s About Who You Know

During his ongoing job search, Rosenthal quickly realized that in many cases it might just take a personal relationship in a company to get an interview. With all of his previous employers based either across the nation or located all over the world, he has very few contacts with the local business community, he notes.

“Unless you get a direct reference or have a personal connection with a potential employer, they just might hire a younger applicant because they can pay less money or think they won’t take time off because of health issues,” he quips.

“Research findings will tell you that older workers are more responsible and loyal than their younger colleagues, and have a better work ethic, too,” Rosenthal is quick to say. Don’t believe that older workers take more time off then younger employees, he adds.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Rosenthal keeps plugging along sending out resumes hoping to reel in that full-time job. With being two years shy of age 65, he says, “I am just not interested in retiring because I don’t have enough hobbies or interests to keep me busy.”

Like many other long-term unemployed Rhode Islanders, Rosenthal just tries to keep the faith, realizing that “sooner or later something will turn up. To survive, “you don’t look backward you just look forward.”

What Some Polls Say

It seems that Rosenthal is not alone in his belief that age can make a job search more challenging to find full-time employment. According to an Associated Press-NORC Center poll results, detailed in “Working Longer: Older Americans’ Attitudes on Work and Retirement,” 55 percent of those 50 and over who searched for employment in the past five years viewed their search as difficult, and 43 percent thought employers were concerned about their age.

The poll found that 69 percent of the older job seekers reported few available jobs 63 percent say the jobs did not pay well, nor did they offer good benefits (53 percent). Around one-third of the respondents were told they were over qualified [like Rosenthal].

But the October 2013 poll also revealed that some employers do value older workers. Forty three percent of the older respondents seeking employment in the last five years say they encountered a high demand for their skills, and 31 percent say there was a high demand for their experiences.

According to the poll’s findings, “unemployed people aged 45 to 54 were out of work 45 weeks on average, those 55 to 64 were jobless for 57 weeks and those 65 and older an average of 51 weeks.”

Meanwhile, an AARP poll also released last month, found age discrimination “rampant” in New York City for those age 50 and over. The researchers found that when an aging baby boomer loses a job it may take them about 4 months longer than younger job seekers to find another one.

Forty eight percent of the survey respondents claim they either personally experienced age discrimination or witnessed it directed at a family member or friend who has turned fifty years old. Almost half of these respondents either personally or witnessed a person not being hired because of their age.

Increasing Your Odds of Finding Work

Kathy Aguiar, principal employment and training interviewer at West Warwick-based Network Rhode Island Career Center. agrees with Rosenthal’s personal observations and the above cited poll results that indicate that older job seekers can be blocked from gaining meaningful employment by age discrimination. However, Aguiar, who has 25 years of assisting Rhode Island’s unemployed get work, tells me that there are job hunting skills and techniques that you can use to increase your odds in finding that job.

“It’s not the 1980s and with a 9.3 percent unemployment rate you must change with the times,” urges Aguiar, stressing that the 80s way of writing a resume is totally outdated today.

If your resume is not formatted correctly, computer systems, called Applicant Tracking Systems, won’t identify you as a potential candidate, says Aguiar, who says that “75 percent of the applicants applying by internet will be thrown out of the selection process because of this problem.”

Applicant Tracking Systems will skip over employment history if you put that information under “career development” instead of “work experience,” on your resume, adds Aguiar. “Always put the company’s name first, followed by job title, and employment dates.”

Aguiar warns applicants not to save resumes as PDF files because Applicant Tracking Systems cannot read this documents. Save it on a word file, she recommends.

Today, one resume does not fit all, notes Aguiar. Especially in Rhode Island you have to target your resume to the position you are seeking. You have to revise your resume to the position you are seeking. .

A well-written resume combined with using Social Media, including Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, and good networking skills can lead to a successful job search, adds Aguiar.

Finally, one of the best ways to get an interview and ultimately becoming gainfully employed is by finding someone within a company to be a personal reference. “Who you know is still important, especially in Rhode Island.” You may even get extra points when your resume is reviewed because of the internal reference, she says.

National polls tell us that ageism is running rampant in the employment sector. You can not deny its existence when you continue to hear stories from those age 50 and over unemployed family members, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, who tell you about their frustrating and very challenging experiences of seeking gainful employment.

Only in this country do we not value the wisdom and knowledge that our elders provide us. It is time for a change in our thinking and attitudes.

If an employer is worried about his bottom line, just consider hiring an older worker. You will most certainly will get the bang for your buck by bringing in an aging baby boomer who is loyal, dependable, and brings a skill set and life experience that most certainly will benefit your company. To me, it’s a no brainer.

Herb Weiss LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com