By Natanya Rutstein

South Africa recently got to know more about Marion Fernandes, 67, who has worked as a flight attendant for nearly five decades. According to eNCA she plans to keep flying until she turns 80 to beat the current record-holder to become the longest serving flight attendant in the world. Bette Nash, age 82 in 2017, has been an American Airlines flight attendant since 1957 according to webtopnews. CNN speculates that this makes it quite possible that she's the world's most senior flight attendant, still flying.  Bob Reardon, the world’s oldest ever flight attendant, had worked for Delta (and previously Northwest) for 63 years. He was 90 years old, and was forced to retire, against his own will according to an article at https://onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/06/08/oldest-flight-attendant-passes-away/.

These examples show the importance for employers to be mindful of the needs and expectations of their older workers as the global population continues to live longer and rewrite the rules of retirement. Creating a satisfying EX for your over 50's can be hugely beneficial in gaining access to and retaining a vast wealth of knowledge, skills and experience coupled with increased engagement levels and its positive impact on productivity and organisational profits. 

The wide selection of tools available today, some as discussed in the Age Smart Compendium of Strategies and Practices (https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/pdf/ase compendium.pdf) makes it so much easier for employers to regularly reach out to their employees and to listen to their needs and expectations. Once armed with this knowledge employers can begin to address these needs and concerns through some of the following strategies:


Introduce flexibility into your work practices to provide a better work-life balance and accommodate health considerations for older employees.


Design benefit packages with an emphasis on health, wellbeing and financial security. These are areas of concern for ageing employees.


Provide line managers with the necessary skills to be able to manage an intergenerational workforce and the associated challenges this brings. Marriott’s Aging Workforce Program includes an “Intergenerational Toolkit for Managers” that includes articles, audio clips of Marriott managers and HR professionals sharing stories and tips, and additional resources. (Age Smart Compendium of Strategies and Practices, https;//www.mailman.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/pdf/ase compendium.pdf)


Review your current policies and procedures to guard against the inclusion of age bias in all employment processes for example-  recruitment and selection, training and development.  


Certain roles may need to be modified and new development paths created in order to reduce the physical demands of certain jobs as well as provide for changes to certain roles and the creation of new roles due to advances in technology. Continuous training and re-skilling is vital to your ageing employees in order to keep their skills relevant and prepare them for the potential changes to their role.


Include regular career conversations as part of your performance management process for all employees. This will ensure that employees are made to think and plan for their future careers without feeling that they are being singled out because of their age.


Coaching or mentoring schemes encourage older, more experienced staff to share their skills and knowledge with the next generation.


Grey is the new green! Mature apprentices are an attractive proposition for older people wanting to return to work after ‘retiring’. Robert de Niro’s character in the move “The Intern” demonstrated the value of continuing the work experience for the older person themselves, as well as for the organisation.


Design changes in the work environment, equipment, or job processes can help prevent injuries and assist elder employees to continue in their roles. Such changes can also have a positive impact on work productivity. BMW, introduced numerous ergonomic adjustments in their work environment in the interests of creating a safer and healthier working environment. These changes resulted in a seven percent increase in productivity within one year. The changes included covering cement floors with wooden platforms to reduce the impact on joints, adjustable work stations and improved lighting.
(Age Smart Compendium of Strategies and Practices, https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/pdf/ase compendium.pdf)

By leveraging some of the strategies discussed above, your organisation has an opportunity to retain and attract highly skilled older employees and to optimize the new multigenerational workplace as part of your 21st century business strategy.

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