The talents of experience

May 23, 1991

A store must be doing something right when it is 18 percent more profitable than five other outlets in its chain, has an employee turnover rate six times lower and an absentee rate that is 39 percent below other stores. In this case, a hardware store was staffed entirely by people over 50. Because older workers are more likely to have been homeowners, they are more familiar with the kinds of tools and products the store sells and thus make better salespeople than younger, less-experienced employees.

Older workers are a population that too many employers now regard as a liability. But people who have reached the conventional retirement age can be an asset to the work force -- although learning this means that the employer sometimes has to take a fresh look at concepts like productivity. The hotel chain Days Inns of America, which likes to hire older workers for its telephone reservations system, has found that older workers generally take about a minute longer on each call, but that the extra time pays off in a higher rate of success in booking reservations. Activity for its own sake does not always translate into profit.

As the population of older people continues to grow, giving them a chance to work makes good sense. No country is rich enough to do without the talents and experience of people eager to work, regardless of age.

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