By the end of this decade, a good portion of the generation of Hillary Clinton, Marlo Thomas, and Mick Jagger will be, if not already retired, then very close to that milestone. But, as the popular television commercial featuring Dennis Hopper illustrates, this isn't your father's retirement, man. It's different for a couple of reasons, not the least of which are the advancements in health care. These children of the 1960s are raging into retirement feeling much younger, healthier, and more vital than the generation before them. They're not declining when they hit 65—they're just getting started.
Retirement itself is a different state of being than it was when the Greatest Generation collected its gold watches. Back then, people retired with generous pensions and the promise of lifetime health insurance from their employers. Today? Most Baby Boomers need to provide their own insurance coverage and save for their own retirements—easier said than done in this up-and-down economy when many people have seen their nest eggs evaporate as fast as the stock market can hit rock bottom.
Between living longer and healthier than their parents did and the insecure financial realities of these tough economic times, a whole generation of people is casting an eye back toward the workplace after retirement. They're a large, new segment of the workforce—the "silver-collar" worker. These are people who have retired from the careers they spent a lifetime building only to realize, out of boredom or financial need, that they once again must punch a time clock.
These workers typically aren't looking to find comparable positions to the ones from which they've retired. Often, they're going from the top of the ladder to the bottom—not wanting the responsibility and headaches of management or higher positions. Instead, they're applying for part-time, hourly jobs. Take a spin through your local McDonald's, Wal-Mart, or Barnes & Noble Bookstore and note the average age of employees. Odds are, it's 50-plus.
A recent study by the AARP outlines the advantages of hiring and training silver-collar workers:
The revolving door stops turning: Older workers are not looking to advance into other positions; they're not seeking experience to go elsewhere; they're not working their way through college. They want to stay in the job they applied for. Therefore, older employees tend to stay on the job longer than their younger counterparts do.
Punctuality is a non-issue: They'll get there early, fully prepared to work. They have reliable transportation, and they don't make excuses for showing up late.
The need for motivation is less: Whether they're greeting customers at Wal-Mart, selling books at Barnes & Noble, or taking orders at a McDonald's drive-thru, silver-collar workers don't need to be motivated by sales contests or other "carrots" such as time off, an extra bump in pay, or any of the myriad other schemes concocted to motivate a workforce. For most silver-collar workers, doing the job well is motivation enough.
An end to workplace politics: Backstabbing, blaming, gossip, hidden agendas? Please. Older workers have no interest in anything but doing the job they were hired to do.
You don't need to train them on how to serve customers: Seniors know from hard-won experience how to relate to even the most difficult customers. Baby Boomers who have worked for a lifetime have seen it all, done it all, and know how to handle it all.
They're good role models: A punctual, highly motivated, proud, honest employee with great customer service skills is a fabulous example to have walking around your workplace. Your other employees can learn much from seniors.
Fast-food franchises such as McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts understand these advantages and have been actively recruiting seniors for decades. But it's not just retail that's attracting older workers. Home Instead Senior Care, a home health-care business with more than 700 locations worldwide, strongly promotes hiring older workers.
The average age of Home Instead's 45,000 caregivers is 55 years old, says Jim Beck, director of public affairs for Home Instead. "We find older workers bring a sense of wisdom and stability to the caregiver position," Beck says. "Also, many come to us already having experience caring for a relative—a spouse or a parent—at home."
Home Instead provides in-home care for aging seniors, and often the adult children of those seniors are choosing between Home Instead and nursing home care for their parents. "Those adult children are looking for caregivers with experience, with stability, and with an ability to relate to them and to their parent or parents," Beck says. "Older workers provide that for us."
While the benefits are many, hiring silver-collar workers can mean some challenges, too.
Training might not go as smoothly for an older worker: Comparisons to old dogs and new tricks aside, it can be more difficult for older workers to pick up new techniques and company-specific concepts, especially if they've never worked in the field before.
New technologies can be confusing: A twentysomething has been raised using iPods, cell phones, and computers, so learning job-specific technologies such as point-of-sale devices and computerized sales registers is no problem. Older workers might require extra training in these types of technologies.
Endurance can be a factor: Sure, Dennis Hopper might be out there riding the waves on his surfboard, but not every senior has that kind of stamina. If the job requires hours of standing or other physical activity, this might be a difficult fit.
"While many employers are realizing the advantages of hiring seniors, not many of them are building in ways to accommodate seniors on the job—flexible hours and roles that might not be as physically challenging, for example," says Laird Post, principal and leader of Booz & Company's Human Capital Management Practice. "One job doesn't fit all."
Employers need to adapt positions so they work for seniors, he adds. "They should step back and take a look at their positions and ask themselves if those job parameters fit with the workforce of tomorrow," he says.
Whether companies adapt and alter positions or not, it's time for the hiring bias against seniors to end, Post says. "There has been this notion that gray-haired hirees are going to cost more in terms of health care and training," he notes. "But often, that's not the case. The fact is, older workers bring a strong work ethic and high motivation for the job, and make significant contributions to the workplace."