By Mike Cook
For The Bellingham Business Journal
“Those who never change their mind never change anything!” — Winston Churchill
My wife turned 75 on Dec. 22; she retired Dec. 31. Somebody heard about her retirement and offered her a new position starting Feb. 1. What are you gonna do, when people know you have the talent they are looking for, they find a way to work you in. Or so it seems.
Reality: According to a survey from the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, two-thirds of baby boomers will continue to work after age 65.
Now here is a question. If you are an employer in the market for talent, are you aware of this reality? Would you have considered my wife for a position in your company?
All things considered, very likely you would have passed her by, understandably so.
Yet, it may be time to reconsider not only your views on the age of potential employees but also your other conditions of employment. As Mr. Churchill says here at the outset, it may be time to change your mind.
In the recent article “Our Aging Population Needs Workplace Adjustments” Dr. Ally Day argues on behalf of our aging population that employers could be making accommodations for many of our physical and psychological limitations.
I say our limitations because like my wife, I am in my 70s. Day suggests that we geezers bring some special qualities to work, in addition to needing to use the bathroom frequently!
“There are indeed ways in which older workers contribute invaluably to the workplace—their institutional memory and long-term commitment being just two examples…”
As it happens, Day is herself a member of the millennial generation and I think it is sweet that she is taking up for those of us old enough to be her grandparents. But thinking of us as in some way disabled, perhaps in need of legislative support, largely discounts the type of work we are best suited to, and often it isn’t physical. It just may be that we need to be attracted as much as accommodated.
We may hurt all over when we wake up in the morning, but our minds are sharp. I admit that adjusting to two new hips over the past year has been anything but a piece of cake. Nonetheless, I continue to teach at a local university and coach business owners and I still have room to make a larger contribution, if offered the right opportunity.
These days most mornings I am usually up between 7 and 8 a.m. unless it is the weekend and then I’ll sleep in until 9. I get up, head downstairs, feed the black cat, heat the water for coffee, uncover the parrot and scratch his head. Gotta scratch his head or he starts yelling!
Once the water gets hot I make a cup of coffee for myself and a cup of decaf for my wife, go out to the garage to bring in the other cat, (he has night terrors!) and get his breakfast, then take the decaf upstairs to my wife where she has usually started her work day on her laptop while still in bed. (We both prefer working from home.)
By about 9 a.m. I’ve had a second cup of coffee and have begun the process of sorting through the email that has arrived by then. Usually there are about 25 new entries, most from various professional sites that I subscribe to, Inc., Fast Company, Forbes, Chief Learning Officer and others. I scan the subject lines, quickly deleting the majority and saving the ones I’ll spend time with for later in the day. I handle the various notes from clients asking for meetings and sometimes I get inquiries to see if I am able to accept any new clients.
I understand there are more and more people spending their days like I do. The TransAmerica study stated that beginning in 2010 we were entering a 10-year period where 70 million US workers were going to reach retirement age and only 40 million new workers are going to enter the workforce.
That, for an economy that has reached full employment, is a real dilemma. Of course, that assumes that those of us who could be leaving the workforce are being replaced by people with equal talent and skills. The newer folks won’t have as much experience of course but eventually they’ll catch on.
I still like a good professional challenge, but honestly, I am not interested in full time work or showing up anyplace from 8 a.m.-5p.m. five to six days a week. I don’t have to earn what I once did but I would like to be paid a respectful amount, something that reflects the value I can bring to a workplace.
Often times I wonder whether an employer might be interested in having me as part of their team. I’ve asked around but find that more often than not employers are more interested in control of my time than they are in my productivity, even though I could probably produce in three days a week what some of their new people produce in a week.
I don’t need a job, I’d just like to do some interesting work and that’s a problem for most companies, I don’t fit. I told an HR manager recently that I thought I might be interested in working in some capacity for at least the next five years. She wanted to know how she would sell me to her CEO if I was only going to be around for five years.
I said, “Ask your CEO how long they are going to be around!”
Look, I know the idea of hiring a bunch of people my age has its challenges, but you know what — so does hiring people at any age. Be honest with yourself, is your company strapped for talent these days? And I mean talent, not just filling your vacancies. If the answer is “yes” you might want to consider the non-traditional workforce all around you. While you are at it, think about attracting us as much as accommodating us.
I know I am not alone. The pool of people like me is growing daily and the opportunity is there for the companies with vision.
The advantages should be obvious. The folks in my age group, call them geezers if you will, are often not looking for full time employment, most don’t need benefits, we probably don’t need to be managed, we’ll do what we say and we’ll do it when it needs to be done. We have organizational savvy and skills and respect is probably more important to us than money so we’ll be less expensive in the long run. Yes, there is the bathroom thing, but you can live with that!
Your job is to figure out how to utilize our talents, when we don’t give a hoot about your pay grades, vacation policies or work hours. If you can deal with that, we might be able to strike a deal, and I am betting you would be the winner in the end.
Mike Cook ‘s columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He facilitates a CEO peer advisory group in the Whatcom/Skagit area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He recently published ‘Thriving in the Middle: Why Managers Need to Be Coaching Each Other“