Here’s Why I’m in Love With Old Employees

I’ve recently got to spend some time with my Dad – he’s 70. I used to think 70 was really old, like let-me-help-feed-you-that-oatmeal old.

My Dad doesn’t seem 70, or look 70, I guess it’s somewhat true; 70 is the new 60. Here’s what is awesome, though: 70 in work years – is still 70!

When you are working in a professional role at 70, pretty much you’re the oldest person sitting at the meeting. You know where the bodies are buried, who dug the hole, and who has been searching for those bodies ever since. My Dad works in a professional role – they keep paying him to show up, so he keeps showing up – and he’s probably pretty damn tired of answering the question, “So, when are you going to retire?”

Old workers have a freedom younger ones don’t

Lately, he’s been sharing some great work stories with me from the perspective of being 70 and already collecting full Social Security. This is what is completely AWESOME about being 70 and still working – you don’t give a sh*t about office politics!

When you know that you could retire at any minute, and you’re comfortable with that, a freedom comes over you that most people don’t have in your organization. When your boss is 40ish – the same age as your kids – and you’ve got 30 years of work war stories and experience on them, you tend to tell it like it is when no one else will. It’s when the CEO says he just wants to hear it like it is and even when your boss and his boss are trying to duck out of the room or kick you under the table – because they don’t want the CEO to know what “it’ is really like.

Yes, it’s awesome to be old and be at work!

Too often leadership tends to discount older workers in the twilight of their career.“Oh, that’s just crazy old Guss; don’t pay attention to him. He still thinks we can get great customer service by talking to people face-to-face!” (the group all laughs loudly, while checking their smart phones for the latest customer service numbers of the electronic dashboard).

We believe that their “sage old advice” has no merit when in reality, we hate the fact that the older worker tends to cut through our political BS and tell us what we really don’t want to hear – the painful truth of why we are failing.

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Why you need to listen when they speak

Sure, many of our older workers could deliver their feedback in a better way, coat it with a little sugar, make it easier to go down. But most of the time they don’t. They just throw it on the table, like a grenade, and watch the fallout as executives start tripping over their spreadsheets trying to explain why they’ve had declining sales for 12 straight quarters, but how they should still be eligible for their performance bonuses.

Look, the next time you hear one of your old workers start to speak — stop, listen, and don’t judge. They aren’t trying to get a promotion, or a raise, and realize they probably don’t even need to show up any longer. What they are saying comes from the heart, comes from years of experience, comes from the fact they have reached a point in their life where they only want to leave a legacy of something they can be proud of.

Your organization can truly benefit from it – but only if you open yourself up to hear it.

Come see Tim Sackett speak on What Your CEO Wished HR Would Do at the TLNT Transform conference in Austin, TX Feb. 26-28, 2012. Click here for more information on attending this event. 

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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6 Comments on “Here’s Why I’m in Love With Old Employees

  1. Great posting. I am in my early 40s and truly enjoying my 70s father experience and perspective in business. I usually bring that knowledge to my work place, and find myself quoting my Dad.. it is hilarious… Im truly blessed to have the opportunity to learn from him and practice it the very next day… I do have older employees and they usually go first in my weekly meetings, better yet, they usually tell me what they want me to add to my meeting agenda. Its awesome!

  2. Hi Tim,

    Enjoyed the posting. Thought you might be interested in this paper from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology entitled ‘Age-related decline in executive function predates better advice-giving in uncomfortable social contexts” by Evan P Apfelbaum, Anne C. Krendl and Nalini Ambady. Here’s the essence of it from the Abstract:

    Conventional wisdom suggests that older adults are more likely than young adults to speak their mind. Age- related executive function (EF) decline is believed to underlie this tendency by weakening older adults’ capacity to inhibit responses. While age-related EF decline disrupts social and cognitive functioning in many domains, such degeneration may also carry the unforeseen benefit of improving communication in uncomfortable social contexts. We examined the performance of relatively low and high EF older adults and young adults on the socially distressing task of providing critical advice to a troubled obese teenager. Relative to higher EF older adults and younger adults, lower EF older adults were more open, provided more advice, and were seen as more empathic. Moreover, doctors specializing in obesity treatment rated lower EF older adults’ advice to the teen as having greater potential for prompting a lifestyle change. Our findings suggest a potential silver lining to age-related cognitive decline.Here’s to being older, wiser and more empathic!!Jon

  3. As someone who is not too far off being an oldie, I couldn’t agree more. Personally,the best thing I find about getting old is that you stop feeling self concious:   You wear the clothes and colours you like, are not afraid to speak out when you know you are right and your quiet self-confidence enables you to do so without causing offence.   
    You’re also less inclined to compete agressively with either workmates or friends, which makes you a much nicer person.

  4. Great article, well written.  Why is it my impression that the ‘over 60s’ have difficulty getting new placements?  If you are already in a company, then your old ‘wisdom’ may be retained (as long as it is not too expensive!), but ‘veterans’ are very seldomly employeed off the street.

  5. .I am 72, shortly 73, and
    I would not like to be forced by nature to stop working. My youngest son is 10
    and I must be there, when he will graduate from High-School. As independent
    Consultant in Intl. TA and management, I realised that my best project input is
    possible in more traditional cultures (Asia, Africa), because white hair and
    deep insight into cultural differences and related psychology, receiving the
    natural respect there, will never lead to an unanswered question or an ignored suggestion.
    However, the power gained this way increases the responsibilities to and
    respect for the freedom of others. One could call it humble domination. 

     

    The modern western societies believe in the domination of young
    people, which to my understanding have recently been identified as one cause
    for system failures. The competition to becoming the best, the richest, most
    prominent, the winner, would have required the wisdom of age. “Think of the end
    of what you do” could have protected the world from economic egomania.

     

    Being or getting old these days in our highly industrialized and low
    emotional and socially responsible society, (I cannot use the word: “civilization”
    in this context, because it is something very different), a 50 year young
    person could easily be outsourced without a chance to find a job and the
    experience to recognize old friends as new enemies, which will give him/her
    about 20 years to learn that he/she can rely only him-/herself.

    Just to take care of the person that one loves most – yourself. Thereafter
    one may restart taking care of others. The privileged age, after second
    education, which is starting around the 50th will certainly become
    the mindful generation and consequently the core element of the future social
    evolution.  

     

    My planning is rather short than long; my feeling for life became
    stronger, beauty is more beautiful than ever before, and there is nothing,
    which is scary. Problems can be solved or simply ignored and minutes are
    important and often remarkable. God only knows how long it will last and as
    long as it does, the world is an interesting place to be.

    It is good to read about a child with 40 years, recognizing how
    great it can be to grow older and what good is waiting there.

  6. The thing I really like about being,er, older, especially when I was working for one organisation full time, was that I felt I had the freedom to be honest about something when it was deserved. I’m thinking specifically about the kind of bullshit stuff that consultants provided: almost always tedious, unnecessary and wrong, and whereas when I was younger I’d have felt that I had to keep quiet, later on I knew that I could say what I thought (well, within reason, I wouldn’t have been gratuitously rude). It was also good to be able to groan aloud when managers produced meaningless jargon (‘Best practice,” “going forward,” “Out of the loop,” “thinking outside the box” and all the other cr*p).

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