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Archive for March, 2009

Key Question — April

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

From Mary Lloyd, Mining Silver

This is the third of our year-long series of questions.  And this month’s comes as March goes out like a lion for a lot of us.  Flooding, snowstorms, and other nasty weather are worrying us all over the country.  And globally, we are all still stuck with this mess of an economy.  That’s a lot to get stressed about.  And most of us know all too well what stress feels like.
This month, let’s flip that and look at the opposite.  Let’s consider what “relaxed” feels like.  For April, please give us your comments to the following question:

How do you know when you’re relaxed?

Please take the time to register and leave your opinion.  We’d love to hear what you think!

Why We Need to Recalibrate Our Sense of “Old”

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO Mining Silver

On his 80th birthday, Hugh Hefner said “80 is the new 40.”   In an article last summer, Sunset magazine proclaimed “100 is the new 70.”   Author and CEO Bill Byham titled a 2007 business book  70: The New 50. The numbers are fun, but so far, it seems in terms of the way we see it as a culture, 50 is still “old.”  We need to revisit that.  We are shooting ourselves in the collective foot big time.

Webster’s lists nine different definitions of the word “old.”  When we talk about “old” people, are we talking about “worn” or “experienced?”   Our continued success as a society hinges on which we choose.  Because 50 is not “worn” so much as polished.   We are throwing away really good stuff–and then paying to keep it somewhere else.

Seventy percent of the physical problems we blame on aging are actually the result of lifestyle choices.  It’s not your age that’s keeping you from doing that bike ride.  It’s that you haven’t walked farther than from the couch to the refrigerator in the last five years.  Excusing our bad habits with our birthdays is a downpayment on a long gloomy death spiral.   Most of us are going to live to 80.  Thirty years of assuming we can’t do what we want because we’re “old” is pretty tragic.

Businesses who assume 50 is “old” are squandering some of their best talent, too.  Instead of helping  the experienced workforce get comfortable with new technology, they look for ways to usher them out the door.  Instead of building multi-generational teams that capitalize on the full range of talents and skills available, they shove the experience in some corner where the younger workers can’t learn from it.  They literally watch needed expertise walk out the door into retirement without ever asking, “Any way we can get you to work for us on a more flexible basis?”

Wired magazine’s April issue includes an article about taking your job on the road–in your RV.  It wasnt written for “old” people.    But it sure looks like a good marriage of “retirement” and staunching the experience drain.  The irony of the current business mindset is that while companies continue to assume that experienced workers want traditional retirement, they are creating flexible work arrangements to attract Gen Y workers as their replacements.  The “new kids” want  to work when they want wherever they want,  responsible only for the end result rather than showing up every day.  It’s called ROWE–results only work environment.    To offer such options to new, inexperienced workers–who probably won’t reach the level of productivity the older workers have for ten years or maybe much longer–and NOT offer it as an alternative to retirement is painfully short-sighted.

As a business, there may also be room to retain the experience you already paid to develop in creative ways that take less than a full time salary to accomplish.   This is a tight labor market, yes.   But it’s also the perfect opportunity to try some things while the pace is a little slower.    How can you marry new technology with old savvy to get the best bang for your labor buck?

And then there is the little matter of government entitlements.  When someone retires, they go on everybody else’s payroll, via FICA taxes.  Social Security comes out of our collective wallets, not “the government’s.”   So when we expect people to be “old” and to retire around 62,  we buy in on taking care of them, in terms of Social Security checks, for an average of about 18 years.

Most  people retire in good health.  They are still capable of doing great work on something in which they believe, particularly if it’s a customized arrangement.  Instead, the invisible wall of ageism goes up around them.  The culture assumes they are washed up, worn out, and useless.   We pay them to “get out of the way” when they weren’t in the way in the first place.  And once they’ve retired, we make re-entry into the labor market, even if highly qualified, damn near impossible.  It’s like we are afraid “old” is contagious.

And it doesn’t stop there.  Once people start being “old,” they buy in on the stereotype.  They need more medical attention.  Much of it wouldn’t be necessary if these capable people could remain engaged.  But when the only person who’ll talk to you is your doctor, you talk to your doctor.  Once Medicare is part of that person’s setup, we are all pay the bill.

We need to revisit when “old” starts.  I’m voting for somewhere around 95 or maybe 98.  Many of us can keep going all the way to the day we die if we just have the opportunity.  People over 50 have a lot left to offer and a lot left to do. As a culture, we need to give them the chance.

Why “Whatever” is Losing You Customers

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO, Mining Silver

In a recent post I mentioned an experience at a local grocery store that made me vow I would never go back.  In a nutshell, I took issue with being totally ignored by the checker, who carried on a conversation with her also young co-worker the whole time she was supposedly serving me.  I said I would not go back.  And I won’t.  (My stubbornness is legendary.)

But after I wrote that post I started to think about the broader implications of that experience.  It’s something that’s much bigger than me choosing a different grocery store.  What was going on was both generational and ageist.  And the businesses who want to flourish–in this economy especially–need to see it for what it is–something that can make a difference in their bottom line.

Sure, I didn’t like being less important that what kind of cream cheese the friend had gotten for her on her bagel.  But what made that conversation seem appropriate to her in lieu of concentrating on the customer?

That checker was doing what most of this culture does–including me, even though I try really hard not to.  She decided I wasn’t important–I am much older than she is.  I am not relevant in her world.  I was just taking up the space in front of her friend.  So she ignored me and talked to her friend. The problem is, I have a lot more money than her friend.  And was, until that episode, spending quite a bit of it where she is employed.

She will never see the connection if she gets laid off because the store loses business.  (A lot of us in this particular community are much older than she.)  She will blame “stupid management” or “the economic downturn.”  She won’t ask herself, “What did I do to precipitate this?” because kids don’t ask themselves that.  And a bad manager or an inept business owner won’t ask either.  A good manager will and will notice that things are going south before they are all the way to Antarctica.

Older shoppers are not what they used to be.  The baby boom now has gray hair.  We don’t take being rendered irrelevant quite as calmly as the Silent Generation.  But it’s easier to voice our opinions by permanently walking out the door than by yelling at someone.   You don’t want my business?  Fine.  I will take my money and go somewhere that notices I’m buying from them.

There are two other things that make the need to provide good service to older customers even more compelling.    First, much as the stereotype suggests we are all maybe three steps from being street people, older customers tend to have more money to spend.  When you don’t provide them with a positive experience, they won’t spend as much. And when you don’t provide them with a minimally gratifying experience, they will do business elsewhere.

It’s tempting to kiss them off but can you afford it?  And to be blunt, you can only go so far with the rude treatment with the Gen X-ers. too.

The other thing it’s important to realize is that there are different levels to consumerism that tend to parallel age.  At first, it’s just a matter of getting the material things you need to be able to function as an adult.  When you’ve managed that, buying moves to being “pampered.  This tends to happen in your forties and early fifties, when you don’t have time to pamper yourself.   But then you morph again as a consumer.  The third stage is about the experience and that’s why this kind of employee behavior is even more destructive than with younger customers.

It’s a two-headed dragon.  Older customers are treated with less respect because of the ageist assumptions of our culture.  At the same time, older customers want more attention because the experience of shopping is a larger component of their consumption expectations.

So what can you do?   You could explain  all this in a training session.   You could send out e-mails or post a memo on the break room bulletin board.  But all of that assumes the very ones who are not paying attention to the older  customers will pay attention to the bulletin board–or to some other older person in a training class.

What’s the best thing to do?   See for yourself.  Watch what’s going on.  If I had been the store manager that day and had observed that checker, she would have been in my office before the end of her shift.   This is not something you can teach with a memo.  It’s like keeping five-year olds out of traffic.  The feedback needs to be direct, immediate and firm.  “No.  You cannot do that.”    Sounds harsh, but it’s the kindest thing you can do–for everyone involved.  The young employee.  The customer.  The business.

Four BIG Reasons to Hire Older Workers

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd, CEO Mining Silver

Back in the 1970’s, I went to work for a company that grasped the advantage to tapping the female talent in the population.  They were aggressively recruiting qualified women into management and professional roles when their competitors in that male-dominated culture were still expecting them to stay in the kitchen.

My company was a good corporate citizen, but this was not about doing good.  By being an “early adopter,” they attracted the creme de la creme.  Having capable women in responsible positions made them far more competitive than their contemporaries who were still making do with half the talent–the male stuff.

We are to that same kind of place in 2009.  Only this time around, the competitive advantage is in hiring older workers.

Why?

Because they bring a lot more to the dance.  Here’s how:

YOU GET MUCH MORE THAN YOU PAY FOR.  It’s like getting a Ferrari for the price of a Miata.  Forget the foolish business about “overqualified.”  Many older workers are ready to throttle back but not ready to stop working.  They will step into a non-management job after years of running the whole show and be content with that.

A former neighbor, a retired Army colonel and high-end management consultant, is happy as a clam driving a bus for the local transit authority.   Do you think a 28-year-old who is “just trying to find a job” is going to handle to people part or the emergencies of being a bus driver as well?  And if they are willing to manage for you, the value of their experience is exponential.

OLDER WORKERS HAVE BETTER WORK HABITS   Inaccurate stereotypes lead hiring supervisors to assume that older workers  can’t perform the way younger workers do.  That they will miss work or not get as much done.  Assuming the superstar whose resume you’re about to toss will do that, when you have no idea of her personal work history, is absurd.   She may have missed two days in 20 years.  Don’t rely on unfounded assumptions to rule out older workers.

A recent study of the work habits of 3000 rank and file employees in 39 different organizations  found that those younger than 26 were substandard on all six categories:  work standards, safety awareness, reliability/follow-through, attendance, punctuality, and avoidance of disciplinary actions.  Workers age 26 to 45 were average on all six.  Workers age 46 to 55 were above average on four of the six categories.  And workers over 56 were twice as far above average on four of the six and above average on a fifth.  If your hiring needs lean heavily on work habits, you should be looking for people with gray hair.   Unless you’re selling body piercing or long boards, you shouldn’t be ruling them out in any case.

YOU BROADEN YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC APPEAL.  Unless you’re selling youth-exclusive products, having someone on staff who does NOT answer “Thank you” with “No problem” is a plus.  If you want to appeal to the full range of customers, you need a full range of ages to serve them.

Two weeks ago, I was checking out at the grocery store I’ve used for five years.  The checker, who was young, talked with the woman  behind me in line–a co-worker–the whole time she worked on my order.  Then part of the order never made it back into my basket–or to my car.  I had to go back to the store a second time for it.

The young checkers again barely acknowledged me.  Not “I’m so sorry this happened.”  Just “Well..uh… do this and this and this and then stand in that line.”  It was a very long line.

I solved the immediate problem after a bit of a wait.   I solved the rest when I walked out the door.  I will never go back there.  Lots of older customers vote with their feet.   Don’t let them walk out because you have the wrong people serving them.

THIS IS THE AGE GROUP WITH THE MONEY  The biggest irony in all this is that the over 50 crowd is the population that actually has money to spend.  They own upwards of 70 percent of the financial assets.   Their per capita discretionary spending is two and a half times the average of younger households.   They hold almost half of all the credit cards in the United States.

You need people who think like them on your team so you can capture that business.  THIS IS A GROWTH MARKET.  Leave your competitors to duke it out over the twenty-somethings whose credit has just dried up.  To curry this market, you need to have a connection to it.   Your marketing, strategic planning,  and customer service functions need people who can relate because they are over 50 as well.

There are other reasons to employ older workers.  Those are more in the realm of ethics and law.  We don’t need  to go there.  The competitive advantages of hiring highly qualified older workers are more than enough to justify doing it.

5 Big Reasons NOT to Retire

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

By Mary Lloyd — CEO, Mining Silver

A lot of us are lamenting our lost retirement.  It’s real. This is not just a momentary hiccup in our financial planning for what’s “supposed” to come next.  This is the Titanic in terms of retirement plans.

People survived the Titanic.  We can survive this.  It’s not just a matter of getting used to the idea of living a diminished later life though.  We need a whole new direction.  And that is a very good thing.

I’m not going to bother you with how you working longer benefits the nation and brings you more money.  I’m not going to remind you that staying employed usually means  better health care coverage.  Here are five other reasons why staying in the workforce is better.

 

Not retiring is better for your physical health. People who continue to work stay healthier than people who retire to a life of leisure.  Working gives you a sense of purpose.  And purpose is good for you.

In a study of 900 aging religious, those with a strong sense of purpose lived life to the end with no sign of Alzheimer’s disease even though posthumous brain studies found the lesions  characteristic of it.  A study of 12,460 middle-aged Hungarians found those who believed their lives had meaning had lower rates of both cancer and heart disease.    A retirement of drifting from thing to thing at leisure isn’t an automatic ticket to good health.

Not retiring maintains  your emotional health. Work is one of the best sources of self-esteem available.  If you are good enough at something to get paid to do it, that’s strong evidence of your worth.  Most of us don’t realize that’s important until after we let go of it.  Then we struggle to figure out why we are feeling “empty.”  We need to work.  If not for pay, then in some other context.

Not retiring means you don’t have to hang onto a job you hate. If you are going to work for a long time and don’t plan to rely on your current company’s benefits for retirement, it makes perfect sense to find a better job, no matter how old you are.  But it’s tempting to tolerate a bad job fit or a boss that is literally making you sick in the name of “making it to retirement.”

If your job sucks and you’re going to have to work for as long as you live, for heaven’s sake go out and find one you like.  It might take some time to pull it off, but you still won’t be there as long as if you hung on until you could retire.

Not retiring gives you more room to find your dream job. Let’s face it.  When it comes to work, it takes most of us some time to figure out what we like.  I know at lot more now than I did when I was forty.  As you learn what lights your fire, you can move toward that kind of work IF you aren’t telling yourself that you’ll be “done” soon and into the retirement thing.

There are people in their eighties who attribute their good health to the fact that they have to work.  A local lawyer is 99 and still goes to the office.  But not all day every day.  That’s a piece of the dream job, too.  Maybe yours can be done from home or in alternate weeks, or using a WiFi connection from Maui.   If you know you’re going to have to work forever, finding something you love is essential.  Also more exciting.

Not retiring reduces your vulnerability Not working can leave you vulnerable a lot of ways.  You’re vulnerable to becoming isolated.  You’re vulnerable to having your income streams dry up.  You’re vulnerable to having way too much time on your hands if you lose a spouse or companion prematurely.

It’s easier to get a few more hours–or take on a second job for a while–if you’re already employed.   People need people and the work setting is full of them.

The biggest lie of the traditional approach is that retirees are privileged to not be able to work.  That’s not how it started and not why it continues.  It’s a quiet, effective application of ageism.  “Here’s some money.  Now get out of the way.”  Nobody cares what you do and if you do it after you retire.  You’ve rendered yourself irrelevant.  BAD plan!

Instead, find a way to work that’s fun.  Work at something you believe in.  And find a workstyle and employer that make you feel you have a life not just a job.   Retirement is a bad alternative.  Find what you love and thrive at it instead.