Are older workers retail’s ideal employees?

Discussion
Sep 28, 2015

Many older boomers are delaying retirement. And when they do, they sometimes wind up getting a part-time job at retail. A movie, "The Intern," that came out Friday paid homage to the knowledge an older worker can deliver to a business.

In the comedy, Robert De Niro plays a 70-year old retired widower who gets bored and joins a "senior intern program" at a fast-growing online fashion retailer. While receiving mixed reviews, highlights mentioned seeing Ben (Mr. De Niro’s character) helping the overwhelmed founder, played by Anne Hathaway, manage business and family challenges while mentoring the other tech-savvy twenty-somethings on staff.

"Many of the best moments in the film involve placing Ben in relief to the younger male employees who become his de facto charges, as they learn the wonders of a briefcase, the power of tucking in a shirt or the importance of taking responsibility for their sloppy cluelessness," wrote Mark Olsen for the Los Angeles Times.

Numerous studies and articles have detailed how older workers are working past traditional retirement age because of limited savings and escalating health care costs amid longer life expectancies. But many Boomers are also doing so to stay engaged and for mental stimulation.

The Intern

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures, “The Intern”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2022, more than 25 percent of U.S. workers will be 55 years old or older, up from 14 percent in 2002. According to AARP, nearly 10,000 Boomers reach retirement age every day.

Like Ben in "The Intern," older workers can serve as mentors for younger ones.

In a recent column for the Winston-Salem Journal, Randy Wooden, a career consultant, writes that older workers don’t need the level of training and personal development that younger employees do and are generally content with their roles.

"Statistically, older workers are actually apt to stay with you longer than that 22-year-old looking to quickly climb the ladder," he writes. "Older workers possess maturity, wisdom gained (in part) by past mistakes, work ethic, they have had been through the issues of childcare, and in general, they know what they want out of their work/life balance."

Older workers may need unique training and are likely less tech-savvy. (Mr. De Niro’s character joins Facebook for the first time in the movie.)

As far as attracting seniors, a survey from Society for Human Resource Management listed the top steps to recruit and retain older workers as: reduced hours, mentioned by 48 percent of older survey respondents; flexible scheduling, 37 percent; and providing training to upgrade skills, 29 percent.

Should retailers be more open to hiring older workers (55+) for both store and corporate positions? What are the up and downsides of hiring older workers?

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"If retailers hire older workers will they be taking the jobs that young people so desperately need? And there is the paradoxical question: are older workers taking jobs because they need to support their kids who have moved back home?"
"While I agree with Ian I have to say it depends on the individual and what kind of retail we are talking about here. Would a 20-something really want fashion help from the average American over 70?"

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19 Comments on "Are older workers retail’s ideal employees?"


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Ian Percy
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Well, long ago I had to abandon my belief that you should never go to a doctor younger than you. I kind of ran out of options. But, in keeping my belief system thus aligned, I think there is huge advantage to having seniors in retail. The work ethic is what we all long to return to and things like patience, mature common sense and customer respect are, in most cases, all right there. The two areas I’d be most conscious of, or concerned about, are personal energy and product information.

Some of us should consider jumping on two new business opportunities, namely: 1. a new approach to hiring, and 2. a new approach to training and development. As ancient texts teach us: new and old wines need to be handled differently!

Chris Petersen, PhD
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

The three keys to success for older workers are those listed at the end of the article: reduced hours (part-time), flexible scheduling and training/development.

Given the challenges of staffing retail stores for longer hours, part-time staff are critical. Part-time staff who show up on time are even more critical. Many smaller stores have been effectively staffing with older workers for years. And there’s the infamous Walmart greeters/security door staff.

In this age with increasing numbers of young not being able to find jobs, there is an interesting political/policy question: if retailers hire older workers will they be taking the jobs that young people so desperately need?

And there is the paradoxical question: are older workers taking jobs because they need to support their kids who have moved back home?

Hy Louis
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

What I like about older workers is they let all the petty politics of the workplace bounce off of them. They don’t care if they don’t get a raise or promotion. And they usually exceed our expectations. The sweet spot is a healthy 65-year-old that gets medicare and had plenty of coin in the bank. The downside is the 55-year-old that only wants health care. The 55 to 65 group are usually the “don’t wanters” from being downsized who are still bitter. They are still adjusting to a 75 percent cut in pay.

As for being less tech savvy, I don’t buy that. High-tech devices are so easy now the learning curve is now minutes rather than weeks, regardless of age.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

While I agree with Ian I have to say it depends on the individual and what kind of retail we are talking about here.

Would a 20-something really want fashion help from the average American over 70? Or is that average senior worker likely to be much help to a 16-year-old looking to by tech goods?

Of course the answer could be yes or no depending on the context, the senior in question and, of course, the customer.

There are also more subtle issues. Seniors — happy to have a job — could be less demanding in terms of wages, increases, upward mobility and perhaps even benefits. Good news if you are an employer, but not necessarily a formula for endearing oneself with one’s co-workers.

So, like all questions involving people, the answer depends on the person.

Mohamed Amer
Guest
Mohamed Amer
6 years 7 months ago

Older workers are a massive pool of talent for retailers to tap into for the many reasons mentioned above. Diversity at work includes variety of experiences and perspectives — older workers add to that range.

When hiring an older worker, the key upside is you get someone that is dependable and more likely to know who they are and what they want out of life. I don’t see older workers as necessarily tech laggards.

Tom Redd
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Retailers should have a special program that attracts older workers to their store positions. Why? Most Millennials and Generation Zers have no idea what it means to sell, to sell-up, to really serve and how to develop loyal shoppers.

Many of them do not know the importance of carrying forward a corporation’s directional messaging all the way to the store floor.

Ups for us oldies — we bring years of expertise in human interaction. We are not focused on communicating via PC/iPad/or phones and we know how to communicate face to face with fellow humans.

I am anxious to retire and go to work at a retail store. I am confident I can help that retailer train their store team better and sell more product. The retailer I select will also see a major lift in shopper loyalty and more store activity (repeat visits). We will be the number one store in our region! It is about attitude and the desire to help shoppers shop better.

Anne Howe
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

One of the big questions that over 55 employees have when thinking about retail jobs is time off over key holidays. For many, family matters most and they relish the chance to go off to see the kids and grandkids as often as they can. Retailers as employers seem not to care or be willing to manage scheduling to keep older employees able to have blocks of time off for the kind of quality of life they desire. I’m not sure there is a “fair solve” for this but in my experience this issue keeps many qualified and active seniors off retail payrolls.

Roger Saunders
Guest
6 years 7 months ago
One of my homes is in Naples, Florida, so I have the opportunity to witness a good number of older employees on the job as I walk the stores with my wife when I’m in the Sunshine State. These employees are often reporting to Gen X and Millennial managers. Other than the agricultural business of family farms, this is perhaps the first time that we’re seeing multiple generations — Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Traditional — all working in the same environment. When that mix occurs, it’s important that all associates have a degree of EQ, or solid emotional intelligence. When it’s working, it’s a beautiful story, as each group has the opportunity to learn and grow with each other. Without it, a good number of items can be thrown out of kilter. Humor, life stages of getting started in a career and winding down/ending careers, need for earnings vs. stimulation, energy needed to expend ourselves, even something as common as the knowledge of the news of the day, music, entertainment can take some mistaken directions.… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Assuming that all older workers provide the same value is a mistake. Older workers have work and people experience, but what is that experience? Is that experience compatible with the skills you require? The company may have to offer different training, such as computer training. The question is, do the skills of the senior being interviewed fit the requirements of the job needing to be filled?

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Are older workers retail’s ideal employees? Yes. Period. Make it happen. No downside. Experience and generational work ethic is unmatched. Prejudiced perspective? You bet!

Shep Hyken
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Retailers should hire the most appropriate people for the job. I’m sure you’re not going to put Robert De Niro on the sales floor of Abercrombie & Fitch. But Bobby (as his friends call him) might be perfect in other retail environments — or any other business for that matter.

All you have to do is go into a hardware store to find “seasoned professionals” that had prior careers and provide the most help — based on experience! That’s the person I want working for me!

Ian Percy
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

I’m going to start checking for Ryan Mathews’ comments before writing my own. I was thinking it but he shone the light on the key issue so much better. Nope, a 20-something wouldn’t take fashion advice from a 68-year-old sales clerk who keeps saying “Isn’t that a little short on you?” And a 70 year-old-wanting their first notebook is more likely to be helped by a 60-year-old tech-savy salesman not an impatient, fast-talking 21-year-old gamer. The secret is to align customer with product with salesperson.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

I saw “The Intern” Saturday night. It was well done and well performed by an excellent cast. Sure, it is listed as a comedy. But the comedic moments are less a part of the message than the seriousness and value of a proven veteran in the business world. I applaud the message. The value of an experienced senior, even if not tech savvy, far outweighs the young, fresh-out-of-school hires. The senior is going to be more content and less interested in climbing the corporate ladder again. It is a matter of being needed and filling voids in one’s life. A senior is going to be relied on to fill those hours younger, full-time employees do not want. Give him/her 10 to 20 hours a week and they are happy. It fills a void for both the senior and the retailer. Let’s see more of it starting this holiday season.

Gajendra Ratnavel
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Older workers can help make a more dynamic team but the difference between 55 and 65 is dramatic. Its the 65-and-older employees that we probably need to worry about more so than 55.

The retailer will need to consider the work environment, working conditions, the physical requirements of the job and health benefits. Would insurance start going up as the number of people in your work force above 55 goes up?

Lee Peterson
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Depends on the brand. As it applies to Forever 21 or Holister, I wouldn’t. But for most brands it’s a great idea. I’d look at the way Starbucks handles it: same brand personality, same energy and spirit, i.e. don’t just hire for experience, also look to brand fit.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

I love the question, should retailers be more open to hiring older workers?

I maybe a little jaded, but retailers should be open to hiring the best person possible to do the job. In many cases that is going to be someone over the age of 55.

The number one upside is the same as the number one downside. Many of these workers are going to be smarter and have better work ethics than the people they work for.

If management does not take advantage of this, then everyone loses.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

Wow! Talk about over-generalizing. Older workers are…well they aren’t any one thing, of course. My own take (and yes, I’m likely guilty of generalizing here, too) is that the experience of the 55+ set could be quite valuable in management—assuming, of course, that they were valuable as well when they were under 55, but much less so in store positions, where “(just) a warm body” is needed, and medical and scheduling issues (hinted at in the SHRM study) are likely to overwhelm any experience advantage.

George Anderson
Guest
6 years 7 months ago
This discussion needs to be broadened to the corporate level. I am frequently sent resumes and networking requests by execs in the 45-60 age range. It’s not unusual to hear stories that these women and men find themselves looking for positions, often through downsizing of some sort, and have the skills and energy to help any organization smart enough to hire them. When they are given reasons for not being hired it typically comes down to an employer’s concern that they will hunting for another job as soon as they come aboard. Most have told me that is not their intent at all. If anything, they want to get off the career merry-go-round and find a place they can stay until they retire. One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the evidence that older workers are more likely to stay with an employer longer than someone in their twenties. Why wouldn’t we want the experience and talent of a 55-year-old for 10 to 15 years than going through two to four twenty-somethings… Read more »
Peter J. Charness
Guest
6 years 7 months ago

If you look at some basic demographics, the aging of the workforce, and the impending deportation of 11 million from the workforce (yeah right) who else will be available to keep retail running if not the 55 and up group? Given some reasonable matching of characteristics to retailer type (keep those grandparents out of the short, short, short wear department) how else will we keep commerce flowing?

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Braintrust
"If retailers hire older workers will they be taking the jobs that young people so desperately need? And there is the paradoxical question: are older workers taking jobs because they need to support their kids who have moved back home?"
"While I agree with Ian I have to say it depends on the individual and what kind of retail we are talking about here. Would a 20-something really want fashion help from the average American over 70?"

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