Recruiting Today’s Seniors — They Want and Need to Keep Working

Jan 27, 2014

I want and need to keep working.

So many retirees have said this to me lately. There are two reasons why they say it.

Some need to keep working because they can’t afford to stop working; they didn’t save enough, lost savings in the recession, have kids living with them longer, or have aging parents to care for. They don’t have the money to stop working.

Then there are some who want to keep working because they came from the most driven, focused, and work-minded generation in history. They have no lives out of their work and are afraid to stop working because they lack purpose, and without purpose we all quickly fail. They have seen it in their friends who finished work and many of them finished life at the same time.

So many retirees and older workers find themselves unsure of how to navigate this next chapter in life. Though retirement sounded appealing with a more leisurely pace, no financial worries and, little if any of this is happening. There is a new period in Boomers’ and seniors’ lives — I call it the retirement career. The hallmark of this time period is the need to continue to earn and/or the need to part of something important, valuable, and relevant. Both have ushered in a new look at including older employees in our workforce. 

Many of today’s older workers want to stay busy because, coming from the industrial age, they lived lives that were active, productive, and focused. To end work without replacing it with something meaningful doesn’t address their need to feel relevant, vibrant, and valuable — all critical in our sense of self and in our ability to stay healthy. As Dr Mehmet Oz says, “If your heart doesn’t have a good reason to keep beating, it generally won’t.” Without a reason to wake up each day, we sometimes choose not to bother.

To age well requires that we more tightly align around purpose. Without learning how to reconnect to meaning and purpose, many of today’s older workers find themselves staying busy but in roles that don’t fit them — they either have little impact, little joy, or little value in the role.

Coming from an industrial age that found little value in self-awareness and self-actualization, they now find that to stay busy in a meaningful way requires getting introduced to who they are — their talents, strengths, and passions — so they can review today’s world for those work opportunities that fit them. This allows them to connect to their potential and to show up significantly each day. What older workers need is a better alignment of their talents and abilities to workplace roles — the same thing all generations want and need in the workplace.

So how do we expand our recruitment of the tremendous talent in today’s older workers? How do we fight the bias that tells us younger employees are more technical, flexible, and valuable?

A line I share with my audiences as I speak about hiring for “fit” is, “We can’t tell the packaging the next amazing employee will come with.” We don’t know if it is he or she, old or young, Greek or Italian, or Catholic or Jewish, because the perfect employee for a role isn’t determined by any of these classifications.

Hiring wisely can be summed up by thinking about M&Ms. The candy coating on the outside has no influence on the inside (the filling); we choose the M&Ms for the filling. It is the same in the workplace — we hire for filling — not the external packaging. We must consider abilities — talents, strengths, and passions — in addition to skills and experience. This stops us from discounting older workers — as the perfect employee for the role has the exact combination to behaviors, skills, and experience and may indeed be resident in a candidate who is over 50.

Discounting older employees because of their age is not only illegal; it shortchanges a workplace of powerful and capable talent. They want and need to work. They are each talented in unique ways and therefore should be included in the talent pool considered in all roles. The way to find the best employees is to clearly define the role’s success qualifications — the behaviors, skills, and experience required to be exceptional in the role — then accept any and all responses that match these expectations, regardless of the “candy coating.”

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