We all at one time have fallen victim to the clickbait trap. You see an enticing notice that reads something like, “10 Full-Length Photos of Sasquatch Making Snow Angels.” Who can resist? This happened to me when I came across a piece about famous individuals who were still contributing long past retirement age. These included Clint Eastwood (age 90), still directing movies; Jimmy Carter (age 95), still teaching Sunday school; Warren Buffett (age 87), still making billions; and, of course, Dr. Anthony Fauci (age 79), trying to save our lives.
If you have noticed more gray hairs among the individuals checking out your groceries, taking your temperature at the doctor’s office, or even delivering your pizza, it’s reflective of a long-term trend that is expected to continue. People are living longer and are increasingly reluctant to retire.
Should our industry take a more aggressive posture toward recruiting older individuals for customer service work? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CSRs tend to be significantly younger than the labor force as a whole. (See Table 1.)
It is not clear why there is such a large gap between the availability of workers over 55 and their employment in contact centers. In the United States, workers over age 55 make up about one-fourth of the total workforce and are the fastest-growing age cohort. Are contact center managers missing an opportunity by not tapping into the labor pool of older Americans?
This article is based on published information from credible sources and interviews with leaders in the contact center industry. It is inspired by my 79-year-old aunt who is a top salesperson with a major contact center outsourcer.
Addressing the Myths of Older Workers
Following are some common misperceptions about older workers:
- Older people have lost some of their mojo and are not as mentally sharp as younger workers.
- They are not comfortable with modern technology.
- After long and successful careers, senior workers will feel underemployed as customer service representatives.
- They will resent reporting to supervisors who are the same age as their children.
- Older employees prefer easy work to challenging work.
While these presumptions may be true for some older workers, it is not accurate to presume that, after the age of 55, workers have lost their mojo or are disinterested in technology. As with workers of all ages, there are differences. In fact, my research revealed the following:
- While mental horsepower does decline with age, knowledge and experience keep increasing even beyond the age of 80.
- Today, older individuals are typically very comfortable with technology. They communicate with their friends and relatives through FaceTime and Zoom conferences and actively participate in social networking groups.
- Older employees are happy to have a challenging and rewarding job. They do not compare their current job with their former work, and they are not competing with their peers for advancement.
- In general, they do not resent working for younger people. They understand that working for younger people is a reality. By temperament, older people tend to be patient and understanding, and if anything, are willing to help younger supervisors and other agents by sharing past experiences and through mentoring.
- In terms of preferring easy work, available research shows that older workers are not averse to taking on challenging assignments. Table 2 is from a soon-to-be-released survey of agents sponsored by Aspect Software. Our thanks to Aspect for allowing us to share this data.
Gen Z is the youngest cohort, generally defined as individuals born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Generation X and boomers are individuals born between 1946 and 1964. Based on these numbers, older agents are more inclined to seek moderate or complex tasks than the youngest agents.
Benefits of Employing Seniors as CSRs
People are living longer today. If an individual has reached the age of 65, they can be expected to live about 20 years longer. For both economic reasons and personal motivations, older individuals are reentering the workforce. Seniors will bring a lot of important advantages to employers, including the following:
Experience: With decades of prior work experience they have “been there and done that.” They have learned, often the hard way, what works and what does not. With no motive other than to benefit the organization, older employees are a tremendous resource for both management and staff.
Reliability: Boomers grew up during a time when core values like loyalty, punctuality, quality and hard work were highly valued and widely shared. They continue to carry those values with them. Contact center managers can count on senior employees to show up on time and do the job right with very little supervision.
Patience and empathy: As children, we always knew that our grandparents would listen to our troubles and provide helpful advice. They were great listeners then and still are. Senior representatives will be more likely to listen patiently to belligerent customers, maintain composure, and work out a satisfactory resolution.
Low turnover: Senior workers are not looking to climb the corporate ladder or jump to a new opportunity that offers a modest improvement in income. According to the Aspect agent survey, 62% of Gen X/boomer agents plan to stay at their current job for more than two years. By contrast, only 20% of Gen Z employees (mid-20s) plan to stay in their current job for at least two years.
Recruiting Older Workers
Because many older adults are not actively seeking employment, employers should use more focused visible forms of recruitment activities. Messaging should appeal directly to them, such as recruiting messages that specify “mature,” “experience” and “reliable.” Organizations that can help in your recruiting efforts include:
- AARP Life Reimagined for Work Program
- American Society for Aging’s Career Advantage
- Senior Community Service Employment Program
- Senior job banks
Candidates are out there. About 40% of workers over the age of 50 are employed or seeking employment. Grandma or grandpa may be looking for a job and you may not even know it! Surprise them.
Author’s note: Pelorus Associates’ 2020 World Workforce Management Systems Market report on trends and forces impacting WFM demand is now available.