ENCOURAGING PEAK PERFORMANCE FROM OLDER WORKERS

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Dispel the stereotypes and you’ll find that senior employees have many positives to contribute to the success of your business.

Mandatory retirement has been illegal in most industries for decades, but some managers are still reluctant to hire workers older than 65. Frequently, this age group is characterized as inflexible, slower and reluctant to evolve with technology, but most employers find that they challenge these stereotypes and can be assets.

As we get older, biological and psychological changes do occur, and each generation is sociologically different. Awareness of age-related differences can empower employers to capitalize on senior workers’ positives while adapting for their limitations.

AGE-RELATED CHANGES
While most stereotypes are greatly exaggerated, many biological changes do take place both physically and cognitively. Nearly every body system is less efficient, but that does not mean inevitable disease or disability. The stereotype that seniors can’t hear or see well is false, but it is true that hearing and vision are not quite as sharp, so consider moving an older worker’s seat forward at a meeting.

Recognizing normal changes that happen to the aging brain can help managers understand older worker’s behavior. For example, some older workers may be quiet during that meeting but submit great ideas a few hours later after they’ve had time to process.

SOCIOLOGICAL CHANGES
Sociologically, older workers generally are highly dedicated employees. Many are motivated by financial need. There are numerous advantages to deferring Social Security payments, so many seniors put off collecting as long as possible. Older adults have witnessed steep declines in retirement accounts, so there is a genuine need to supplement incomes. Others simply did not adequately plan for retirement and require additional income.

Generationally, workers over 65 have a strong work ethic. Even without a significant financial incentive, they were raised in an era that idealized hard work. They are team-oriented and unlikely to leave coworkers in a bind. Likely having finished raising their families, they can be open to working more hours when necessary. They are known for honoring commitments and respecting authority. They are typically good at interpersonal communication. Having worked most of their careers without email, texting and the internet, they rely on their people skills and tend to be more resourceful than younger generations when researching and problem-solving.

While older workers are sometimes thought to be technologically challenged, it is often because they have not had the opportunity to learn, so assess and respond to needs for training.

Meaningful work often promotes increased self-worth in older employees, so managers can best motivate them by critiquing gently and praising publicly. Singling them out for a job well done provides psychological benefits for the senior while dispelling false stereotypes.

Older workers have so much to offer: experience, work ethic, potential to mentor and often fewer interfering family obligations. The key is recognizing and accommodating their differences. n

Jennifer FitzPatrick, MSW, LCSW-C, is the author of Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One, as well as a speaker and educator. Founder of Jenerations Health Education Inc., she has more than 20 years of experience in health care. She is a frequent speaker at national and regional conferences and was an adjunct instructor at Johns Hopkins University. JenerationsHealth.com

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