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Gold Power: Getting the Most from Older Hospitality Workers
By Jane W. Auster
What do the Compass Group, Fairmont Hotels, McDonald's and Tim Hortons have in common? Like many other leaders in the hospitality industry, they've discovered a wealth of talent in older employees. They've also recognized that workers 55 and older will make up roughly 20 percent of the U.S. labor force by 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so these hospitality giants are actively integrating golden power in their operations.
At Chartwells School Dining Services, a division of Compass Group, 60 percent of the employees are over 50, and many have worked for the company for 15 or 20 years. Regional director Cathy O'Connor calls it a "happy accident" that Chartwells works with so many mature workers. Turnover, especially among older workers, is very low, and mature employees work side by side with younger staff benefiting from the combination of expertise and enthusiasm. Says O'Connor, "We find older workers bring maturity, life skills, positive attitude, experience, and skills from other careers."
The benefits of integrating mature workers
Tim Hortons has always seen the benefits of building a diverse team. The quick service restaurant chain of more than 3,400 locations throughout North America has a history of combining younger and older workers. "Mature employees bring value to a team or work environment in terms of diversity of skills and experience," says Nan Oldroyd, corporate HR director for TDL Group Ltd. (Tim Hortons). "Like younger staff, they have unique perspectives on customer service and business." As with Chartwells, Tim Hortons has found that mature workers tend to have low turnover rates, a high degree of loyalty, and energy. An added bonus for the QSR is that the diverse staff mirror the diversity of customers. "The faces of our employees reflect the faces of our customers, which is the right thing to do but also is simply good business," says Oldroyd.
Accommodating today's older hospitality workers
Harnessing these talents requires a more flexible hospitality employer mindset.
Peter Shrive, a partner with Cambridge Management Planning, points out areas where employers need to change assumptions they might have about managing older workers:
* Get rid of any pre-conceived notions that more mature workers can't keep up with the work, aren't willing to do the hard jobs in hospitality, or are resistant to new technology.
* Create a climate of respect since you and your staff will be working with people who are older than you.
* Be ready to accommodate the skills level, both physical and mental, of older workers.
* Let employees with wisdom and experience offer their ideas, feedback, recommendations and, on occasion, criticism.
* Consider that for some of your more mature employees, this is a post-retirement position, second career or return to the workforce, and their ambitions and drive will differ from the energy of your younger staff.
* Create a work plan that accommodates the schedules of all of your employees. Many mature workers are looking for flexible hours that allow them to travel or deal with family issues (caring for older relatives, babysitting grandchildren). Job-sharing might be the best option for these employees.
* Make adjustments to your training and development. Some of your older employees might not be long service workers. Are you prepared to make an investment that might not pay long-term dividends?
* Make mentors out of your older workers. Even if they come to the hospitality industry from another field, their wisdom and expertise can definitely benefit your younger, less experienced staff.
Savvy hospitality employers recognize there's a wealth of talent in the over-55 set. Make room for them on your team, and you'll reap the rewards in stability, attitude and an unbeatable customer service ethic.
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