In the US, it is anticipated that 76 million baby boomers will retire in the next ten years. However, there will be fewer than 50 million workers to replace them. Many organisations will be forced to retain an older workforce. Those organisations which develop deliberate strategies to retain older workers will do more than go with the inevitable flow of labour supply and demand. They will improve productivity.

Older workers were brought up in an era of company loyalty. Their need to move on every two years was never as strong as today’s younger workers. If they have been successful in their careers, they also have probably had enough of “moving on”.

By staying in a job longer, older workers provide a living knowledge management system, increasing corporate memory.

Older workers are less likely to admit what they do not know. They have little left to prove and are more receptive to actually learning from training rather than just attending training. They ask more questions, are slower at completing exercises and in doing so retain more knowledge from training.

Older workers understand the meaning of accountability. They have less need to shift responsibility for their actions as they are less likely to feel the need to “compete”. Equally, they are less likely to lose confidence over mistakes made, wanting more to correct errors than to wallow in introspection.

Creativity is seen as the purview of younger workers. Older workers have seen what works in a company’s culture, what is realistic and what is not. Creativity is not necessarily about the number of ideas but more about the number of effective ideas.

As a corollary to creativity, older workers are more likely to want to see a project through from idea to implementation. They gain more pleasure out of seeing something completed than the thrill of the presentation or the business case being accepted.

Organisations not only need to retain older workers but attract them. Developing strategies to attract the best of the older workers and gain the benefits of older workers will improve productivity.

Several strategies are commonly available to attract older workers. Part time working, working from home or tele-working, contract consulting and special assignments are all helpful in attracting older workers. However, by far the most successful strategy is to let people know that older workers are valued.

The tactics to use in letting older workers know they are valued is no different than it is to let younger workers know they are valued:

  • Give them meaningful roles with an outcome defined as a standard of performance
  • Give them training to ensure that they are competent to achieve the outcome
  • Set targets above the standard to challenge them to find new ways of achieving more

A typical industry which benefits from retaining and attracting baby boomers is the hospitality industry.

The hospitality industry is characterised by transient workers, high turnover and either high levels of training and retraining or fluctuating levels of customer service. Consequently, there are negative implications for up- selling, cross selling and customer acquisition costs.

Hotels and resorts often have duty managers working overnight who are 23 years old or younger. It is not unusual to have a manager of a bar aged 22. Having a few grey heads around to offer counsel, particularly with stressful occurrences, assists younger managers to grow into their roles. Older workers help bring stability to the day-to- day operations when there is heavy check-in/check-out times, disruptive guests or employees and demanding guests.

Having wise counsel as a mentor increases the probability that staff, who otherwise see the hospitality industry as a means to an end, see it as a career.

Older staff generally have a better attitude to providing a service and have experienced more tricks of the trade in managing customers expectations. Choose the right older staff and an hotel builds in role models for younger staff.

An increase of as little as 5% of the over 45’s proportion of workers provides sufficient people with guidance and mentoring skills to make a difference.

The hospitality industry and industries like it need to shake up their recruitment strategies to retain and recruit older workers to meet the labour shortage. If they select well, they will not only solve a labour shortage problem, they will improve productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability.