People Make a Company Great … and valuing what tenured employees bring makes it that much greater!
I’m a firm believer that it isn’t “the technology or the product that make a company great, it’s the people”⁴. Years ago, while working for J&J, I supported a large corporate finance division in their efforts to create a highly engaged, high- performing support function dedicated to providing exceptional service to a fast growing subsidiary of J&J. One member of the division I so admired was a very seasoned Finance Manager with vast knowledge, experience in finance and a long history with the company. He was closing in on retirement with only a few years left to go and became an enormous resource to many of the younger, less experienced financial analysts and managers. He was an outstanding mentor with exceptional insight and patience who would frequently and calmly take time out of his demanding schedule to spend time with those needing his help. He would graciously make time to discuss issues people were facing in their jobs by providing encouragement, potential solutions to problems and a mature perspective on the human dynamics involved. To a person, members of the division appreciated the wisdom and empathy this manager exhibited and all had tremendous respect for him. The historical context and insights he shared helped us design development strategies and related “hands-on” leadership and communication coaching and training. As a result of strong sponsorship by the CFO, ongoing development in leading and communicating and the involvement by all division employees in numerous improvement initiatives, the division became the model of what a corporate finance support function can become. As a result of this experience, I developed a keen appreciation of the tremendous value dedicated, experienced employees can be to an organization.
Forest products company Weyerhaeuser, where approximately 37 percent of employees are age 50 or older, has made a conscious effort to retain older workers. “We view it as a competitive advantage to have people with more experience because there is a great deal of knowledge and expertise that goes into our field,” says Bruce Amundson, a spokesperson for Weyerhaeuser. “We have developed retention plans and benefits packages that we offer to incent people to stay in the workforce longer.”⁷
The Value of Exceptional, Experienced Employees
Michael Lynch, Vice President of Colonial Teltek in King of Prussia, PA, understands the value of experienced, outstanding employees. In a recent company blog post entitled “The Value of Exceptional, Experienced Employees”⁵, Michael wrote the following in his preamble to recognizing a few exceptional employees in the company … “The importance of good employees to a business cannot be overstated—they are truly the heart and soul of a company, and the difference between failure and success. There are countless reasons why good employees make a business succeed, from their role in customer service to their impact on the morale and attitude of the staff as a whole. Furthermore, having employees with true experience in their respective field means having people who know the territory, can anticipate and avoid problems, and can help newer staff members learn through example. At Colonial Teltek, we believe our experienced employees are what truly make us stand apart. They are leaders and experts, knowing everything there is to know about what they do, and we are lucky to have them. These are some of the many people who make us, as a company, shine.”⁵
According to a 2012 survey of hiring managers at 500 U.S. companies, “91% of hiring managers say mature workers are reliable.” Hiring managers also report that they regard older workers as professional (85%), good listeners (77%), and organized (77%), and that they have a positive work ethic (75%)…¹³
5 Benefits of Hiring & Retaining Late Career, Experienced Employees
I developed the following 5 benefits of hiring and retaining late career, experienced employees based on my own observations over the years in my corporate development and coaching practice as well as the results of recent surveys and literature on the subject.
1. Knowledge, Experience and Mature Perspective
Seasoned employees with their knowledge, experience and mature perspective, are a valuable segment of the workforce who historically have been overlooked and underutilized. “Many carry deep institutional knowledge of the organization. They have extensive product, systems, and process knowledge. They hold client relationships that have been built over many years. They carry tremendous experience on what has worked and what hasn’t worked for the company in the past. And great employees have camaraderie and influence with their coworkers, which when lost, has an impact on the corporate culture.”⁴
A 2006 AARP survey of business executives found that, “nearly eight in ten (79%) “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that the knowledge and experience that older employees take with them when they retire or leave can hurt a business financially.”²
I have found that they typically value honesty and pride themselves on their personal integrity and being truthful. There’s been a number of recent articles highlighting how hiring and/or retaining members from this segment of the labor pool is an easy and cost-effective way to bring to and/or keep the expertise and leadership required for company success.¹
The two skills most lacking in companies according to a 2010 report from the American Society for Training and Development, were leadership and executive-level skills (as reported by 50 percent of respondents).”¹²
2. Engaged & Enjoy what they Do
According to a 2013 survey by the Associated Press in association with the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, among Americans aged 50 and over who are working, 90% report that they are somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs¹⁰. According to a 2014 survey of adults aged 40-59, among respondents who are currently employed, three-quarters indicate that they love or like their current job (34% love, 43% like)¹¹.
According to a study by Charles Schwab, three-fourths of employees between ages 50 and 60, Schwab found, the primary motivation for work is that they like their jobs and find the work experience satisfying. Nearly 60 percent like what they do and about half like their workplace colleagues, Schwab said. And about two-thirds had positive attitudes about having good job skills and jobs that were a positive challenge for them.¹³
3. Dedicated, Loyal with a Strong Work Ethic
As a result of older employees typically enjoying their work (above), they are more likely to look forward to going to work each day and be more punctual, dedicated and apt to do a quality job as a result. Also, as seen from the graph on the left, they are more likely to be loyal, reliable, have a strong work ethic and have low turnover. They tend to stay with the same employer where younger employees may be preoccupied with their career and leave for what they perceive to be “greener pastures”. In addition, through their long tenure, they have developed extensive networks both professionally and with customer organizations.⁷
4. Leading by Example
Late career employees with their years of life and work experience have developed the ability to respond with composure when problems occur and to be more confident when sharing their perspective and ideas with higher level management. As I wrote about in my opening paragraph, these workers can be exceptional mentors and role models; a valuable resource in developing younger, less experienced employees. According to the 2013 Associated Press-NORC survey, since turning 50, 60% of those surveyed say “they have had colleagues come to them for advice more often and 42% say they have felt as though they were receiving more respect”.¹⁰
According to a 2006 AARP survey of business executives, “when asked to name the advantages of workers ages 50+, the majority of executives cite this group’s “experience” (91%), “knowledge” (78%), ability to “mentor other workers” (71%), and “valuable insights into customer or business needs” (63%).”²
5. Tactful & Effective Communication Skills
Older workers began developed their job skills during an era when e-mail, instant messaging, texting or social media didn’t dominate communication. As a result, I have found that they typically have refined their communication, management and people skills. Tactful and effective interpersonal communication is an important success attribute in business and one which less experienced employees find difficult and can benefit greatly from having a role model or mentor to learn from.
Late career employees with their dedication, knowledge, experience and maturity, along with the many other attributes identified in this Leadership Brief, are an invaluable corporate resource. Any company not leveraging their unique perspective and skills to the highest degree possible is making a strategic mistake and will not gain the competitive advantage possible by fully engaging them for the success of the enterprise.
- The Center for Aging & Work at Boston College; AGEnda Aging & Work Blog; 2015
- “Business Executives’ Attitudes Toward the Aging Workforce: Aware but not Prepared”; AARP; 10/2006
- “How to Create an Organizational Culture for Successful Aging”; 5-6-15; Center for Aging & Work, Boston College
- “The Age Premium: Retaining Older Workers”; Steven Greenhouse; NY Times; 5-14-14
- “Great Employees Are Not Replaceable”; By Amy Rees Anderson; Forbes; 2-13-13
- “The Value of Exceptional, Experienced Employees”, Michael Lynch Blog, Vice President, Colonial Teltek; King of Prussia, PA; 2015
- “Great Employees Are Not Replaceable”; Amy Rees Anderson; Forbes; 2-13-13
- “Companies with the Most Older Workers”; Emily Brandon; Us News/Money; 5-31-11
- Phase II of the national study of business strategy and workforce development; Chestnut Hill, MA: The Center on Aging & Work/Workplace Flexibility; 2007
- “Working longer: Older Americans’ attitudes on work and retirement”; J. Benz, M. Sedensky, T. Tompson, & J. Agiesta; The Associated Press and NORC; 2013
- “Reflections on Life & Career”; C. Thayer; AARP; 2014
- “Bridging the skills gap: New factors compound the growing skills shortage”; American Society for Training & Development; 2010
- “Why Employers Value Older Workers”; Philip Moeller; US News / Money; 4-30-12
- “Don’t Overlook Your Long-Tenured Employees”; James Harter; HBR; 6-12-15