Why recruiting older workers makes sense

Hiring older job applicants isn’t just smart business practice. It’s also a way to avoid age discrimination charges.

Two considerations help make older applicants a logical choice: demographic shifts that are altering the hiring pool and the numerous desirable traits possessed by older workers. According to the 2010 Census data, individuals aged 65 and over are now the fastest growing segment of the population. At the same time the population of 16- to 24-year-olds—typically the sweet spot for restaurant hiring—is expected to decline 6.9 percent between 2006 and 2016.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that nearly 12 million of the 12.6 million jobs projected to be added during 2008-2018 will be employ those in the 55-and-older age group. Workers in this group are expected to make up 24 percent of the workforce by 2018. In addition, at least 60 percent of older adults take on “bridge work” (full- or part-time employment following longer careers).   

The oldest baby boomers have turned 65, and many of those who have retired have very modest incomes. According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, the median income for people aged 65 and over was $27,707 for men and $15, 362 for women in 2011. For over a third of the retirees aged 65 and over, 90 percent or more of their retirement income is from Social Security benefits, which total just over $1,100 a month. This is leading many to seek additional employment.

Older workers seek hospitality jobs for a variety of other reasons, including flexible hours, a desire to continue to contribute to society by working with people and the need to alleviate financial stress. Older workers also excel in customer relations and bring an extensive knowledge base to their job.

As a group, mature workers possess several desirable job-related attributes compared to their younger counterparts, including lower absenteeism, greater commitment, fewer on-the-job injuries, greater job satisfaction, less stress and lower likelihood of drug abuse. They also have the capacity to serve as mentors for younger employees. Past studies have rated older workers highest for quality of work, self-confidence, speed with which tasks were learned and volume of work produced.  

Older workers have been criticized for their inability to keep up with new technology. But a Days Inn study showed that as long as the appropriate training strategy is used to allay the fear and apprehension associated with new software, older workers can learn just as rapidly as their younger counterparts. While it’s true that older workers may take a little longer to train due to a natural decline in cognitive and physical abilities associated with the aging process, there is a positive return on investment in training older workers because they retain skills learned and are thorough in putting it into practice. As a group, they are also more loyal and reliable. 

Not hiring or retaining older workers, on the other hand, exposes restaurant owners to age discrimination accusations.

In late 2013, a jury awarded four restaurant workers $5.7 million in compensatory and punitive damages in an age discrimination lawsuit. The plaintiffs, ranging in age from 49 to 70, were employed at Cable’s Restaurant in Los Angeles. The lawsuit alleged that the employees were laid off from the jobs due to their ages.

In another December 2013 case, Ruby Tuesday agreed to pay $575,000 to settle a class age discrimination lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC alleged that Ruby Tuesday engaged in a pattern or practice of age discrimination against job applicants aged 40 and over in six restaurants located in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The restaurant chain also failed to keep employment records as required by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and the EEOC.

The ADEA prohibits employers from discriminating against workers aged 40 and over with respect to any aspect of employment, including hiring, termination, pay, job assignments, promotions, training, benefits and any other term or condition of employment. Victims of age discrimination may be entitled to compensatory, punitive and liquidated damages.

 

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Swathi Ravichandran

Swathi Ravichandran is an associate professor of hospitality management at Kent State University in Kent, OH. She received an MBA in Marketing and PhD in foodservice and lodging management from Iowa...
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