Published November 10, 2011
“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boomers face a very different retirement than their parents. We’re healthier and more active, and expect more out of our golden years than just days on the golf course and reading on the porch.
Oftentimes when it comes to planning for our after-work life, we focus solely on making sure we have enough money. While securing the funds to cover our dreams is vital, it’s also important to carefully plan what you want to do with the rest of your life.
For boomers who aren’t fully ready to leave the labor force all together or want to continue making a little extra income without having a full-time gig, there are a variety of flexible and part-time work opportunities. From starting their own ventures, to acting as a consultant (why not put all those years of experience to work), boomers can find a new passion in retirement.
While the current job market continues to struggle, there are steps older workers can take to find fulfilling opportunities.
Bill Coleman, vice president of research and certification at retirementjobs.com, an online marketplace for job seekers older than 50, answered the following questions relating to baby boomers finding part time or flexible employment.
Boomer: What benefits can an employer get by hiring mature workers on a part time basis?
Coleman: A broad background of capabilities. Mature workers have typically held several jobs and have seen a great deal. They are bringing the value of that collective experience to your organization. In a part-time role, you are very likely to get that value for far less than it’s worth by hiring the mature worker because he/she is not looking for a "career" role and is willing to accept flexibility as part of the total compensation package. Thus, the employer gets those capabilities as part of the package.
An excellent work ethic. Mature workers come from a generation that was raised to work hard and get the job done. That mindset doesn’t disappear when one takes a part-time job later in life. The mature workers work hard, get to work on time and make sure things are done and done right and don’t cut corners.
A very high level of reliability and responsibility. Often mature workers find themselves competing with high school and college students for some of these part-time jobs, but they have a trump card: a mature worker is mature (in both senses of the word). Sometimes hiring managers think of mature workers as feeble, forgetful, elderly people. They’re not. The mature members of the workforce are hard-working, diligent, responsible people.
True loyalty. They will do the job they agreed to do and stay for the time they agreed to stay. Mature workers have never in their careers considered a job a right. They are appreciative and thankful to the employer who gives them the opportunity to earn a living and in return, they commit to diligence and hard work. Older workers are much less likely to be flighty or to jump to another job for an extra 25¢ an hour. They consider a job a two-way promise, and they will do their best to uphold their end of the bargain.
A strong sense of empathy. For this reason, many employers find mature workers excellent for customer-facing roles, whether it’s the front lines at a retailer or the customer service department (on-site or phone) at any kind of organization. Mature workers have more empathy than their younger counterparts and this leads them to be more comforting to customers in need of service and attention, which results in an overall better--and on average, more profitable--customer experience.
Boomer: What challenges do employers face when hiring baby boomers?
Coleman: First of all, many of the challenges and problems are perceived, but not real. Older workers are sometimes perceived to be slow, unreliable and not good with technology. While any or all of these may be true for select individuals, the reality is that the vast majority of baby boomers do not fit those negative stereotypes. That said, an employer looking to hire baby boomers should be sure to make sure the individuals he or she is considering do have the specific skills needed for the job---just like any other employee. (One thing the employer can probably expect is that the baby boomers are very unlikely to be texting their friends when they should be working.)
Baby boomers may have higher expectations of the employer. They may be looking for higher compensation, they may be looking for certain types of benefit coverage, or they may have specific scheduling constraints. When interviewing more mature workers one should be cognizant of the reasons the person is seeking employment. Often, employers find the more mature workers are worth a premium over their less experienced counterparts. On the benefits side, that’s something that most employers can’t change---the benefits are what they are. However, if the company’s benefit program is good for older workers, that’s something that should be emphasized in the interviewing process because that has appeal to many older workers.
Boomer: Are employers flexible with their scheduling to accommodate baby boomers life style?
Coleman: For the past several years there has been a trend to workforce flexibility. This trend results from several forces. Employees have been pushing for flexible hours for work/family balance issues. Also, ridiculous commutes in many urban areas combined with occasional spikes in gas prices have created more demand for four-day work weeks and off-rush-hour commutes. The global economy has broken down, or at least seriously dented, the traditional 9:00 to 5:00 work day. New Yorkers know that Californians are working until at least 8:00pm EST and Londoners start their day at 4:00am EST. It’s not your father’s work day anymore. And the final force--the one that really makes it all possible--is the advancement of technology. It is now possible to have 100% virtual call centers that allow individual employees to log in and log out from home and the systems are smart enough to maintain efficient work flows (and monitor the employees). The rest of us also see the power of technology via smart phones, email, storing files in the cloud, etc. All of these advancements make it more and more possible and more and more acceptable for employees to effectively work from home, work flexible hours and continue to be fully productive.
With all those points, above, the answer to the specific question, is really that the boomers are benefiting from the universal trend more than that employers are making accommodations specifically for the boomers. This is actually quite a good thing for the boomers, however, because they are not seeking nor being given special treatment, they are simply a demographic that really values the new workplace flexibility. This is much better than asking for special treatment.
Boomer: Do baby boomers find age discrimination to be a problem when seeking employment?
Coleman: In a word, yes. Not always, but it does exist.
The problem seems to be mostly a subtle and unintentional one. Some hiring managers have preconceived notions of mature workers and that colors their instincts on hiring. Often what happens is an employer is looking for signs of an older candidate fitting a stereotype (e.g., being slower, less technologically savvy, forgetful, etc.). The key for the boomer is to present him or herself as someone who does not fit the stereotype (which should be easy because it’s rarely accurate).
RetirementJobs.com has created a Certified Age Friendly Employer program to identify employers that have proven to be friendly to mature workers. The certification takes into account not only the hiring practices of the employer, but also the compensation and benefits programs, the employee training opportunities, flexible hours, etc. The list of Certified Age Friendly Employers includes organization from all over the country and all types of industries: Citizens Financial Group; the Transportation Security Administration (TSA); The Fresh Market; H&R Block; Robert Half International; and many many more.
An interesting fact that we have uncovered through surveys is that most boomers would prefer to know if there is true age discrimination at a particular employer rather than waste their time doing through the motions for a job they don’t have a chance of getting. We have also found that most boomers have no interest in pursuing an age discrimination law suit. They’re time consuming, costly, difficult to prove, and most people seem to think they’re good for defending the principle but not very good at helping get employment (which is usually their primary goal).
Boomer: What are five tips you can give boomers on ways to find flexible and part-time employment?
Coleman: Here are some tips for boomers who are looking for flexible and part time employment:
Don’t act old. We know some people biases against older employees based on biases and stereotypes. Don’t reinforce those stereotypes to your own detriment. Employers will want to email things to you, check your email frequently and don’t tell a potential employer that you don’t. Have a cell phone and don’t shut it off when not in use (for some reason that’s a habit older people have that shows a certain technological naiveté). Make sure your attire is current and not dated. Be energetic and enthusiastic in person and on the phone.
Consider temporary employment agencies. Companies like Robert Half truly value the experience boomers bring. They are also in the business of matching skills with needs and understand that for temp jobs in particular, it’s acceptable to leverage some skills, while basically ignoring others. This will help open more opportunities for the candidate.
Network. Network. Network. Not all jobs are posted on job boards or in classified ads. Make sure people know you’re looking. More importantly, make sure they know what you’re looking for. Create a short list of types of roles you’d be a good fit for and then let everyone know. If you have some specific local employers you’d like to talk with, ask friends, neighbors, relatives, etc. On a related note, we’ve found that only about 1-of-3 or 1-of-4 boomers uses LinkedIn. If you’re looking for a job, register for LinkedIn (free) and learn how to use it.
Think broadly about your skills. People who have had a 30 year career have an abundance of skills. Many employers would love to have access to just some of them. Think of lateral moves to jobs slightly different than the ones you’ve had in the past--jobs that can leverage some of your existing skills. For example, if you’ve been in marking, you might find a training or corporate communications role both within your grasp and fulfilling. Similarly, if you’ve done any kind of construction work, you could find yourself very happy and productive at Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Keep a positive attitude and be diligent. The job market is getting a little better, but is still soft. Be prepared for a search that may last longer than you’d expected or hoped. Because it’s a "buyer’s market," remember it’s your job to follow up. If you haven’t heard from someone you’ve interacted with, follow up. Don’t wait for them. It will show your interest and enthusiasm and it will keep you top of mind. But remember to stay positive when talking to potential employers. Employers don’t want to hire someone who is negative, so be positive and upbeat. It will help.