A 1997 study conducted by The National Council on the Aging revealed that most employers believed "older workers are reliable, thorough, conscientious and dependable. They have fewer on-the-job accidents, miss less time than younger workers, and are very conscientious and careful in carrying out their assignments. (Steinhauser "Diversity" 2). " Many of those same employers, however, were concerned about the older worker's lack of willingness to take on difficult tasks, and perceived them to be less comfortable with new technology. Older employees have years of hard-earned experience that should be considered a tremendous asset to the company.
By dealing with age bias, companies would likely realize increased productivity and corporate profits (Steinhauser "Diversity" 3). Older workers are unlikely to be trained and then leave for greener pastures, and thus save the employer the cost of retraining. The Boeing Company's statement on Diversity maintains, "… diversity gives us a competitive advantage. " It is the policy of The Boeing Company to attract and retain the best qualified people available without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, or status as a disabled or Vietnam Era Veteran (Boeing 1).
In other words, the company's policy is blind to differences, be they of color, gender – or age. They have learned the value of diversity, and serve as a model for other companies who are not yet "smelling the coffee. " What can companies do to ensure they are following the path of no discrimination? Sheldon Steinhauser, in his article "Minimizing Your Potential for Age Discrimination Lawsuits," suggests a two-tiered approach. First, a company must assess its culture. They should interview executives, using a comprehensive list of questions to determine their attitudes towards older workers.
Employees should be polled via anonymous questionnaires to determine the attitude towards older workers. Reasons for older workers' perceptions of discrimination in their workplace should be analyzed. Second, an Action Plan should be created that involves mentoring and intergenerational team building. This Action Plan should indoctrinate workers with a corporate culture of mutual respect and positive relationships between generations. Through methods such as mentoring programs, the years of experience and wisdom of the older workers can be shared with those younger and less experienced workers in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Workers of all ages must be trained in order for such a plan to be successful. Also, the recruiting and promotion methods employed by the company must be examined, and if necessary, changed to reflect this new win-win policy (Steinhauser "Diversity" 3). Such an Action Plan requires commitment from the top. Methods for ensuring the ability to tap the resources of older workers' knowledge can be assisted through flexible work schedules and a part-time pool of qualified retirees.
Older workers should be included in ongoing training programs that are specifically designed for them. Wellness programs can be implemented and participation encouraged to maintain the health, and thus the highest level of productivity, among older workers. Other options offered by The Administration on Aging include increasing part-time positions, training for career transition, job sharing, shorter hours, and work from home (AOA "Discrimination" 3), which can benefit workers of all ages.
The baby boomers – all 76 million of them (AOA 4) – are "graying. " Companies will no longer have a choice as to whether they will have older employees among their workforce, it is a logistical fact. This does not have to be a burden, but instead can be a wise use of valuable assets – workers with experience, knowledge, and wisdom – that will carry this country forward and able to compete in a world that grows smaller every day.
American has a great resource in the knowledge stored in the minds of its aging population. That is one of its primary strengths, and emerging economies that threaten to take more and more jobs from America cannot compete at the same level if all of that knowledge is fully and correctly utilized. As bright, young people enter the workforce in these times when the world, not our neighbors, competes against us, we as a nation owe it to them to assist in every way possible.