Best practices for employee recognition know no age boundaries, but there are some special ways you can recognize the growing ranks of older workers.
Whether they’re delaying retirement, “unretired” (back to work post-retirement) or working again in midlife after raising children, companies value older employees for their experience, maturity and stability.
“There’s no experience like experience,” David Mintz, CEO of Tofutti, told the Austin Statesman recently in a story about the advantages of hiring older workers. Another executive, John Meyer of Arise Virtual Solutions, told the paper, “Having someone who is more senior, who has had some life scars, makes them much better at interacting with people. This is a chance for them to use the skills that they have built up over their life.”
Older employees are a growing force in the U.S. workplace. The large Baby Boomer generation is aging and people are working longer, particularly past age 75. Older employees are also more likely to work full-time, the Bureau on Labor Statistics found. By 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that 19.7 percent of the population will be 65 or older, compared with 12.4 percent in 2000.
Fostering an age-inclusive work environment is vital for overall employee happiness. A 2008 study by the National Center on Workforce and Disability concluded that “the type of culture that welcomes older workers benefits all workers. In that sense, the culture of an organization is a universal and unifying element that can create a positive environment for many different types of workers.”
How you approach older employee recognition is all about attitude, making personal connections and taking their needs into consideration. Follow these dos and don’ts.
DO offer training programs to update the skills of employees re-entering the workforce. “Returnships” are one popular way to offer this training. These internship-like programs are intended for experienced people who have been out of the workforce for some time. Goldman Sachs liked the idea of returnships so much the company trademarked the term, according to a recent CNBC story on the returnship phenomenon.
DON’T think you can’t relate, if you’re a younger manager overseeing older employees. A contributor at Forbes, reflecting on being a young manager, regrets not connecting more with older workers and suggests finding commonalities with staff, even when you’re in a different phase of life: “Forging a personal connection with your subordinates will help you understand them better — what motivates them, how they learn and communicate and what matters most to them — and that will help you become a more effective leader.”
DO honor requests for flexible work arrangements. Many Baby Boomers “must balance the responsibilities of caring for aging parents, as well as their children or grandchildren, with work responsibilities,” concludes a 2008 federal Taskforce on the Aging of the American Workforce. “Flexibility in work arrangements and ‘customized employment’ — that is, individually tailored employment arrangements between the worker and employer that are beneficial to both — can encourage older individuals to remain in the workforce.”
DON’T make assumptions about the cost of hiring and retaining older employees. Many assumptions about older employees — that they take more sick days, are often absent and put a strain on company health insurance plans — prove false, according to research compiled for Recruiter.com by Art Koff. In fact, he finds that many older workers may even be more cost-effective and better for company morale than some of their younger counterparts.
DO keep all ages in mind when designing employee recognition programs. Roy Saunderson, author of “Giving the Recognition Way” and president of the Recognition Management Institute, writes for Incentive Magazine, “There is no age limit when it comes to feeling valued. Make sure recognition programs are dignified and respectful across generations, and always take time to acknowledge everyone’s contributions.”
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