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Training and Motivating Older Workers

Training
by ckilbourne

Let’s face it – the workforce is aging. Our Safety Training Tips editor provides some tips for keeping older workers motivated – and safe.

Look around your workplace and chances are you’ll see more photos of grandchildren on desks and at workstations than ever before. All those late middle-aged and older workers need training and motivation to keep performing at their best just as much as the younger ones. So don’t ignore them, don’t misjudge them, and, above all, don’t sideline them. You could be wasting some of your best workers.

What does an aging workforce have to offer your organization? The answer is lots! For example, middle-aged and older workers:
•   Are generally experienced and knowledgeable about the job and the organization.
•   Tend to have a strong work ethic and take pride in their work.
•   Often have superior judgment, especially when it comes to safety.
•   Tend to make fewer mistakes than their younger co-workers.

•   Are among the most loyal to the organization.
•   Are usually committed to quality and productivity standards.
•   Often are more reliable and have better attendance records than younger workers.
•   Tend to have better workplace safety records than younger workers.
 
Tips for training an aging workforce. Here are some suggestions to help ensure successful training outcomes when you’re dealing with an aging workforce:
Don’t buy into myths about older workers (the “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” mentality), and don’t make assumptions about their goals and aspirations.

  • Give them the same training opportunities and hold them to the same evaluation standards as younger workers.
  • Make sure they keep up to the minute on all workplace issues, includingnew technologies, rules, and procedures that affect their work.
  • Give them the opportunity to participate in self-paced training as well as group training. You can usually count on them to meet self-paced training schedules, learn what they need to learn, and come find you if they have questions.
  • Take the aging process into account when you plan group training. Remember that the older your trainees, the more vision and hearing problems you might have in the group. Make sure visuals are big enough for everyone to see, and check the training venue for good lighting and acceptable acoustics ahead of time.

Tips for motivating an aging workforce. Motivation and training go hand-in-hand. To keep an aging workforce motivated as well as well trained:

  • Talk to middle-aged and older workers to find out what they really want from their jobs at this point in their careers. The answers will likely vary quite a bit, so listen carefully. What you hear will tell you which will be the most powerful motivators for individual employees.
  • Keep providing challenges. Give them their share of interesting, motivating assignments. Don’t assume that older workers don’t want to be bothered. Give them the chance to excel and earn the recognition they deserve and want.
  • Maintain high standards. Apply the same performance standards and evaluation methods to all workers, regardless of age. Keep setting performance goals with older workers. Never write them off and go through the motions on a performance appraisal just because they’re getting on in years.
  • Get them involved in training, coaching, and mentoring younger employees. For many experienced and knowledgeable middle-aged and older employees, this role is a lot of fun and highly motivating. And they’re often very good at it, too.

Why It Matters…

•   According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), by 2010 middle-aged and older workers will outnumber younger ones.
•   By that year, the number of employees aged 59 to 64 is expected to be 21.2 million, compared with about 14 million in 2000.
•   And the number of workers 65 and older should reach about 5.4 million, up more than a million from 2000 figures.
•   The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination against employees 40 years of age and older in the terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.


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