Why more businesses should employ older people

When Gloria isn’t knitting, she’s doing yoga, zumba and tennis, to name just a few pastimes – often with family and friends. When she is knitting, the NYC grandma is earning money. “For the first time in years, I can say that I am working!”

By Vikki Knowles; originally published 2/14/17 by Virgin

jobguyWhen Gloria isn’t knitting, she’s doing yoga, zumba and tennis, to name just a few pastimes – often with family and friends. When she is knitting, the NYC grandma is earning money. “For the first time in years, I can say that I am working!”

Many of us might yearn for the day we can put our feet up, but actually, working longer has its payback; it’s good for health and wellbeing. With many links between social isolation and higher mortality rates in older people, it’s not just an income – and therefore a better quality of life – that work is providing, but also fostering that all-important human interaction.

With an anticipated 36 per cent of workers aged over 50 by 2020, rising life expectancy is bringing us an ageing population. So, as people live longer, happier and healthier lives, what is the business community doing to ensure opportunities are being created for older people to carry on working later in life?

For Brooklyn start-up Wooln, employing older people – like Gloria – is its raison d’être. Literally. “The whole idea of Wooln is actually to work with senior knitters,” says co-founder Faustine Badrichani. “The idea is not to be selling beanies; it’s to be working with seniors.”

Along with co-founder Margaux Rousseau, self-confessed “granny chatter” Badrichani brings New York grandmothers together with a growing number of people who want to know where their knits come from. The result? Hand knitted winter goodies like beanies and snoods.

Despite being at the luxe end of the market, consumers get it. “We know that a $95 beanie is easier to sell than a $175 beanie.”

“But people are really willing to pay the price for something that’s personal. Like when you receive the beanie, it comes with this tag with the name of the knitter and it almost feels like she’s been making it for you.”

It seems that an appreciation for senior citizens varies by culture. Originally from France, Badrichani says elders surrounded them – while in the US, they were harder to find. “When we moved to New York we didn’t see them as much and they weren’t as included in the active workforce. So we decided to do something for them and to bring them back into the community.”

A few flyers and visits to senior centers later, Wooln now has ten knitters.

Often these ladies were knitting all the time – for charities, their grandchildren – so it was great to be paid for something they were doing anyway. But while money was part of the incentive, there was more to it than that. “They feel valued, they feel their talents are put in the forefront and also they enjoy being part of something else,” explains Badrichani.

And employing seniors isn’t just the realm of the start-up (although you’d be forgiven for thinking so if you saw the 2015 movie, The Intern, starring Robert De Niro as a senior intern at a Brooklyn-based e-commerce fashion start-up).

UK home improvement firm B&Q is pretty much synonymous with employing older workers, with more than a quarter of its 30,000 or so employees over 50. Back in 1989, its Macclesfield store was staffed entirely with over 50s, and these days its apprenticeship scheme has no age requirements.

Peter had been retired 17 years before deciding he wanted to get back to work, becoming a customer advisor at B&Q in Bristol. “I enjoy the team spirit here. The guys and girls around me have become a new group of friends – albeit, mostly a lot younger than myself.”

And it’s not just a ‘nice to have’. B&Q deliberately wants to reflect the local community at a particular store, whether that’s in the ethnicity or age of its staff. It also means a bigger talent pool – with no age limit, it widens the opportunity for picking the best.

And the DIY firm isn’t the only one among the retail giants; Sainsbury’s is another age-positive employer, with 25 per cent of staff over 50, and their eldest colleague is 92. The supermarket provides more opportunities for learning and development for older colleagues, who have a wealth of experience under their belt.

Clearly, retirement is changing and subsequently, so is the workplace. Older workers have plenty to offer – from reduced turnover to the transfer of knowledge – so the best thing is to embrace it. “It feels very good and very right to have them be part of the team,” says Badrichani.