Respect Your Elders
Now that 65- to 69-year-olds are able to work as much as they want without losing their Social Security benefits, expect to see more seniors in the labor market. What do you need to know about training and integrating seniors into your organization? The following tips will help you gain the maximum benefit from older workers on your team:
Get rid of your stereotypes. Don't write off older people as senile, stubborn and set in their ways. "Older workers may actually 'get it' faster than other workers," says Susan Gebelein, executive vice president with Personnel Decisions International, a Minneapolis management consulting firm.
Don't teach them what they already know. Though many seniors, particularly women, are just now entering the workplace, the majority have years of experience. "They have a lot of the basic job skills. You don't need to teach them those things," says Gebelein.
Give them time to learn. A report prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor by the National Senior Citizens Education and Research Center (NSCERC) notes that older people need more time, often up to twice as long, to learn new tasks and skills, but with that additional time, they can learn to perform new tasks with fewer mistakes than younger workers. If possible, implement a self-paced program.
Create an effective learning environment. Senses, particularly sight and hearing, tend to dim with age. The NSCERC report suggests you make sure your training facility has adequate lighting and good acoustics, and that you keep background noise to a minimum. Visual aids should have large, easy-to-read print with high contrast colors and should not be posted above eye level because many older people wear bifocals and have difficulty looking up to read. Most older workers prefer sitting around a table rather than in a traditional classroom or theater-style setting. And be sure to provide frequent breaks for using restrooms or just moving around.
Don't assume seniors will resist change and technology. Increasing numbers of seniors have PCs at home and are comfortable using the Internet. Also, many older workers appear inflexible when in fact they are lacking in confidence and, with training, will quickly become more adaptable and accepting of new technology.
For assistance with training seniors or to find seniors who have completed various educational programs, contact your local agency on aging, your public school system's adult education department or local senior citizen centers.
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 14 years ago and has been writing about business and management from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.
- National Senior Citizens Education and Research Center, (301) 578-8800, www.nscerc.org