What’s the value of hiring and managing gray workers?

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

Because of the difficulties in hiring and managing millennials, we’re now looking into the possibility of hiring retired people to do office jobs or back-office tasks for some clerical work, and to some extent, perform managerial assignments. Can you please help us explore the pros and cons of this plan? — Second Chance.

Many years back, Fortune magazine did a cover story on Warren Buffett (b. 1930) of Omaha, Nebraska. The magazine tells the amazing tale of one of America’s most successful billionaires. He has been an enormous success after investing in all kinds of companies in the process of building his conglomerate — Berkshire Hathaway. He has been conferred the nickname “Oracle of Omaha.”

He looks for strong companies that are well-positioned in the market. Then he seeks to take over these companies. Then leaves the management of these acquired companies to incumbent officials, many of whom are old, but not replaced, including Rose Blumkin (1893-1993), who at age 94 was reportedly working seven days a week in the carpet department of Furniture Mart.

Buffett simply does not regard age as having any bearing on how able a manager is. He has worked several decades with an unusually large number of older management executives and still treasures their abilities. Buffett says: “Good managers are so scarce I can’t afford the luxury of letting them go just because they added a year to their age.”

The call center industry is known to have experimented with hiring and managing older workers as a partial solution to their high turnover. That could be your model for evaluating whether retired people are suitable to your own industry and make adjustments from there. But let me come out with my own list of advantages in hiring people in their late 50s and beyond. Here are some of them:

One, gray workers have depth from their work experience. They don’t commit a lot of mistakes, unlike young workers who can be easily distracted by many things, including the infighting caused in part by office romance, office politics, and so on. Mature workers don’t need a lot of training.

Two, gray workers prefer stability and focused on their current tasks. They want to prove themselves once again and remain loyal to their employer. After all, how can you betray someone who gives you another chance at employment? They are not expected to job-hop since their interest is to maintain goodwill with everyone and perpetuate employment as long their mental and physical ability allows them to do their jobs.

Three, gray workers have excellent and tested management skills. They give honest opinions on work situations, but just the same, they tend to follow established policies, even if they don’t agree with them. Many of them were trained in actual face-to-face communication with people rather than the current system that offers impersonal interaction (like e-mail, SMS, etc.) that offers convenience but not any insight into hearts and minds.

Four, gray workers have an excellent network of friends in high places. This is possible if these mature workers have worked for some time in many industries. Connections alone will help them understand where business opportunities can come from. With their friends from many organizations, they know how to maximize their relationships for the benefit of their current employer.

Last, gray workers may have no ambitions for further promotion. They understand their situation and will prefer to remain in the background to help the organization and young people achieve their goals. Many of them would like to retain employment after retirement to remain intellectually nimble.

Those five advantages are on top of my mind. I’m sure there are a lot of more depending on the personal circumstances of the gray workers and the situation of their current employers. Given these advantages, then what are the disadvantages?

One major disadvantage of hiring gray workers pertains to their mental and physical health that could possibly derail the smooth operations of a business. This means that an employer wishing to hire and maintain a pool of mature workers would have to assign them to a support team, and not to critical functions. You have to allow for older people to occasionally absent themselves due to ailments.

That’s why you have to come up with a special employment contract that may include only the basic compensation minus statutory benefits. Employers are not expected to provide extra health and medical services that would mean additional cost. And for this reason, it is wise to require gray workers to undergo the usual pre-employment medical examination to protect the interest of everyone.