Bosses Want Hard Workers So They’re Hiring Older People

From a Wall Street Journal story by Callum Borchers headlined “Bosses Want Hard Workers So They’re Hiring Older People”:

Kip Conforti is hiring for a part-time position at one of two package-shipping stations that he owns in Pennsylvania. He’s filled such roles with high school and college students during two decades in business, but this time his top candidate is a man in his 70s.

Mr. Conforti has grown weary of younger employees who, he says, arrive late for shifts, call out of work often and spend more time scrolling social media feeds than chatting with customers. About a year ago, he tried something different—recruiting people who are more likely to carry AARP cards than the latest iPhone.

“The learning curve is a bit longer,” he says, “but once they get it, God, it’s refreshing. I say, ‘This is what we’re doing today,’ and it gets done. Their shift starts at 9 and they’re here at 8:50. It’s their work ethic.”

Older workers are in demand at a growing number of companies. Perceptions of generational differences don’t always match reality, but three-quarters of people 65 and older said in a Wall Street Journal-NORC survey of Americans’ values last month that hard work is very important to them personally. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, 61% said hard work is very important.

So much for youthful ambition.

People 55 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, according to federal data. Demographic shifts help explain the trend—people are living longer and having fewer children—and some retirement-age folks have little choice but to work because of inflation and a weak stock market.

But certain businesses are targeting seniors on the premise that age is an asset.

The AARP since 2012 has asked companies to sign a pledge to give workers over 50 a fair shot in hiring. Commitments rose 122% last year, compared with 2021, the group says. The roster of pledge-takers now features more than 2,500 businesses, including Bank of America Corp., Microsoft Corp. and H&R Block Inc.

“It makes great business sense to hire experienced workers,” says Heather Tinsley-Fix, senior adviser for employer engagement at the AARP. “More companies are also recognizing the need to include age in their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”

KinderCare Learning Centers Inc., which operates more than 1,500 child-care facilities, signed the pledge last August to expand recruiting efforts amid an acute child-care worker shortage. The AARP’s pledge program offers access to job boards and career fairs for workers over 50.

Less than a year in, KinderCare hasn’t tallied the resulting hires, but the payoff is already clear, says Travis Trautman, the company’s senior director of talent acquisition.

“There’s a willingness from this group to work the opening shift or to close down for the day, to cover during lunches and breaks or even be on call as needed,” he says. “I could go on and on about the value and benefits.”

Global staffing agency ManpowerGroup Inc. launched a placement program for what it calls “mature” workers in 2021 after hearing clients’ concerns about labor shortages and high turnover, says Laurel McDowell. Ms. McDowell, 69, came out of retirement to rejoin her former firm and lead the initiative.

Older workers can be good fits for businesses focused on retention, she says. Young professionals don’t necessarily job-hop more frequently than their predecessors did at the same career stage, but people tend to value stability as they age, she observes.

“We’re generally not looking for the next move,” Ms. McDowell says of her age cohort. “Frequently you can get us for a very reasonable cost.”

Some un-retirees say they draw inspiration from athletes, such as quarterback Tom Brady and Olympic beach volleyball champion Kerri Walsh Jennings, who have made comebacks and excelled long past their purported primes.

Ms. Walsh Jennings, 44, aims to qualify for a sixth Olympics next year, after sitting out the 2020 cycle. She tells me it’s natural to question whether you’ve still “got it,” but adds it’s important to let performance speak for itself.

“I see these amazing athletes who are significantly younger and very hungry, and I wonder: Can I do this? Am I crazy to even think about it?” she says. “But [last month] I was in Miami competing, and it took me two minutes to be like, no, I got it. I belong here.”

While ageism remains a barrier for some graying workers, age-discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission dropped 45% from 2011 to 2021. That’s partly because claims are hard to prove and lawyers are often reluctant to take borderline cases. Johnny C. Taylor Jr., chief executive of the Society for Human Resource Management, says the decline also signals a meaningful reduction in age discrimination.

There is no official measure of discrimination claims on the basis of being too young because federal law protects only workers over 40, but human-resources departments frequently field grievances from millennials and Gen Zers who say they’re unfairly passed over because of their generations’ reputations for flakiness, Mr. Taylor says.

He adds that young people’s approach to work isn’t necessarily worse. Plenty are hard-charging, and those who dial down the intensity can improve their health and happiness. While balance may strike some as lazy, others see refreshing groundedness—or well-founded skepticism of the idea that hard work pays off.

Still, old-fashioned grinders appeal to employers.

“With the economy slowing down, companies need fewer people and need the people who are there to be OK with working hard,” Mr. Taylor says. “Instead of trying to convince younger generations to be something different, some companies are saying, ‘Why don’t we just go hire people who are naturally predisposed to work harder?’”

Speak Your Mind