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Don’t shy away from hiring older people for telework jobs

Many employers are starting to realize the benefits of hiring or retaining older employees.

A recent Globe and Mail story says individuals wants to stay in the workforce longer, thanks to the abolition of mandatory retirement, combined with lifestyle preferences, the baby-boom wave and the downturn in the economy.

They offer high value in skills and experience, and they often stay more loyal to one company than their younger counterparts, the article says.

senior womanKevin Banks, a professor of labour and employment law at Queen’s University and director of the Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace at the Kingston school, says keeping older employers engaged in the workforce creates a number of societal benefits.

Beyond having higher incomes, he said, they are more social, have better health outcomes and continue to contribute to society.

Then there’s the looming issue of a skills shortage in Canada.

“In the long run, we are facing a shrinking work force in Canada,” Banks says. “We’re going to need people with their skills and experience.”

However, Vancouver lawyer Heather Campbell told the Globe older employees may require a higher degree of flexibility in their work conditions.

She offers the “sandwich generation,” or women caring for elderly parents and children as a group that would require considerations.

Telecommuting, where the job description makes it allowable, can ease these restrictions.

A study paper, released in 2009, examined the potential for older workers to telecommute.

The Employability of Older Workers as Teleworkers was completed by Joseph Sharit, Sara J. Czaja, Mario A. Hernandez and Sankaran N. Nair out of the Center on Aging at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Miami, Fla.

“The opportunity to telework, especially from the home, an offer an added incentive for many older workers to delay retirement or re-enter the workforce,” the paper says. “At the same time, employers could tap into this expanded labor pool without having to consider costs such as those associated with office space and transportation.”

The study expresses concern that older workers may not be prepared to use the technology required for telecommuting and thus, they may require a period of training and a period of time to become comfortable with the tools. However, with the ubiquity of technology, I think we can safely predict that concern will wane in the very near future.

Heck, I’m in my 40s and can’t imagine life without my technology.

The paper even cites another study involving the performance of a simulated email-based telework customer service job. The findings of that study, published in the Journal of Gerontology, indicated that older participants (66 to 80 years) were capable of learning the task and, with practice over a four-day period, were able to closely match the performance of people in the 50 to 65 age group.

Key attributes for teleworkers

The core part of the Employability study was a survey of managers who ranked key attributes of individuals suited for telecommuting.

They ranked the following traits in order of importance:

✓ Trustworthiness
✓ Reliability
✓ Ability to work independently
✓ Time-management ability
✓ Maturity
✓ Experience in the work activity
✓ Technology skills
✓ Ability to make adjustments to work activities
✓ Verbal communication ability
✓ Writing ability
✓ Ability to work on teams
✓ Tenure (time on the job)
✓ Health status

The study’s findings show that managers favour older workers for trustworthiness, reliability, ability to work independently and time-management ability. And to no surprise, it shows managers favour younger workers with respect to technology skills and also with ability to work on teams and ability to make adjustments.

Your turn

Have you hired an older worker to telecommute?

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