The Advantages of Older Workers- 10 Advantages of Retaining and Hiring Older Workers: Lessons from NYC Small Businesses
June 22, 2021
1. OLDER WORKERS ARE SKILLED AND EXPERIENCED
We heard universally that older workers bring a level of experience, critical thinking and sheer knowledge that cannot be taught. In some industries – like the jewelers, embroiderers, cabinet and cheese makers interviewed – it takes a decade or longer for workers to gain the technical skills necessary to do their job.
And then, even in industries with less technical training skills required, like Zarin Fabrics (Lower East Side) and A & H Harris Equipment Rentals (Gowanus), a small store which is part of a larger company, it can take many years for sales associates to become familiar and fluent enough with the product to be truly successful. A manager of a nonprofit put it this way: “Young people have a can do attitude — and make mistakes; old people know what questions to ask.”
• International Asbestos Removal (Flushing) owner Karen Grando says, “The experience of knowing how to get around the city. Where to park. Knowing the building managers. Knowing how to get the job done right. There really is a lot to be said for experience. It’s like playing the piano. You can be trained but it’s not the same as playing for years.”
2. THEY STAY IN JOBS LONGER AND TAKE FEWER DAYS OFF
In 2014, the median tenure of workers ages 55-64 in all industries was 10.4 years, more than three times the 3.0 years for workers ages 25-34 years (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Businesses facing high worker turnover – like retail and restaurants which can see 100% worker turnover in a year – consistently said they prefer to hire older workers who have families to support or “a reason they have to come to work” than younger workers who come and go more frequently.
• At Little Wolf Cabinet Shop (Upper East Side), owner John Wolf Sr. said he did not know how long a talented worker he hired at age 60 would keep working, but that he wound up staying for another 10 years. John enticed him to stay an extra year past when he planned to retire, by asking him to spend the entire year training his son, John Jr.
3. THEY HAVE A STRONG WORK ETHIC
Business after business spoke about older workers being the first ones to arrive for a shift, as remaining focused throughout the day and as people who rarely miss work, even in fast-paced, physically demanding businesses.
• At Heidelberg Restaurant (Upper East Side), a German restaurant and bar, manager Andreas Matischak said he strongly prefers to hire older workers because of their work ethic. He described Hedy, a hostess in her 60s, who has been working at Heidelberg for 40 years. “She lives to work. She wants to work. I love having her here. I have to force her to take a vacation.”
• At Bridge Cleaners & Tailors (Soho, Downtown Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Navy Yard), co-owner Richard Aviles, says his older workers’ work ethic is unmatched. “I find that older workers take the job more seriously. People who have endured pain in the past feel they have to prove themselves and get validation from their job.”
Aviles said while strong work ethic is on display everyday in his company, with workers arriving early and staying late, he was particularly moved when his workers pushed day and night doing every job outside their job descriptions to bring his business back to operation when they were flooded under five feet of water during Hurricane Sandy.
“Everybody showed up every though there was no production being done,” he said. “I told them there was no work to do, but that I would be there at sunrise. Two people ran out of gas coming up. They all had on gloves and boots and were scrubbing floors. They saw it as we got to get this place up and running.”
4. THEY RETAIN A BUSINESS’S KNOWLEDGE AND NETWORKS
• At Bartleby and Sage (Long Island City), Chefs Jorge and Alfonse have been with the restaurant part of the business, Sage General Store, for over 15 years. “They just know their way around the kitchen. New chefs can have a hard time fitting in because the same recipes have been done for 17 years. Consistency is incredibly valuable financially.”
• The Queens Tribune (Whitestone) has retained its older advertising sales force even though workers have voluntarily reduced their hours to only a few days a week. Their older workers have retained relationships with all of the area businesses that they built up over several decades that would otherwise be lost.
• At M & S Schmalberg (Garment District) employee Lucia grew up in the business—literally, starting to come in as a child with her mother. “She has more of an understanding of the business than anyone,” said owner Adam Brand. “Lucia is one of the few people that really understands [all parts of the business]. She facilitates things. She’s a help to me. She has an awareness of what’s going on. She’s easily the most valuable person here.Return to Insights