There was an article in a local newspaper today about senior citizens and how they are an “unexploited reservoir of human resources.” A recent study put out by a well known Marketing Institute reported that close to 70% of our senior population is eager to be employed and that if all eligible seniors were working, their net total employment would add billions of dollars to the US economy.

That’s billions not millions!

Think about what an influx of that amount of money into our economy could do for all us. Reduced taxes maybe? More educational facilities? Lower medical costs? It is hard to believe that this group of professional and experienced men and women are being excluded from their potential value to our country.

Talk about respect in the workplace. Before there can be respect for the older workers on the job, first there has to be respect and appreciation out of the office or warehouse or shop or any other business establishment.

First things first.

Give the 65+ group what is due to them. They have already spent a good portion of their lives working. If they choose to keep going, why not let them? Who gives some companies the right to kick out a solid worker just because he/she turned 65 or 68 or even 70? The amount of know-how they have accrued over the years far surpasses the knowledge acquired with a 4-year university degree. Doesn’t experience count for anything? Why are they being ignored?

So the first step in respecting the older worker is to make sure there is an older worker. If she has been at the job for awhile, she should feel comfortable in the knowledge that she will not be asked to leave just because she reaches a certain age. If she continues to do her job properly, there should be no reason to fire her.

Yes, I do agree that there are times when the job takes on a different twist and she is not familiar with the change. Try teaching her the new concepts. Just because she is older doesn’t mean she can’t learn new things. She is well aware that the younger members of the staff know all this tech stuff inside out. Well just because she didn’t have the opportunity to learn it, doesn’t mean she shouldn’t do so now. So be gentle and patient and she will grasp the idea.

An older worker does not want to always be conscious of his age, so accept him as part of the gang. Let him decide if he wants to join you for a beer at Mike’s Place. He will probably turn you down but you never know. Include him in your plans and don’t worry that he will interfere with your fun. He too enjoys a good time. Just because he is older doesn’t mean he’s given up on movies, concerts, music and good books. On the contrary, he has more time for these things now that he doesn’t have to worry about children and baby sitters.

Although he wants to be accepted, please do speak to him with the same respect you should show anyone older than you. Don’t shout—he isn’t deaf. And do try to not to use too much slang. He probably knows more than you would think, but straightforward language is always the best. Do ask his advice about things he should know about. It gives a wonderful feeling of appreciation to be asked to explain something that ‘only’ an older person would know. And if you choose to listen to his advice, all the better.

Do keep in mind that there are some things that older people shouldn’t do and that out of concern and understanding for age he will not be asked to do them. Picking up large heavy boxes should be avoided. Climbing on ladders or chairs is also a no-no. Don’t give him the assignments that everyone else has rejected. And don’t always choose him to go and pick up lunch just because you feel you are doing something more important.

When both the employer and employee are ‘older’ people, there can be more of an appreciation for similar attitudes and shared ideas. But if the older person happens to be a senior member of the company, there is a certain amount of additional reverence one should show him/ her. Speak straight to the heart of the matter. Don’t slap him on the back. Don’t assume that you are on the same level as he is and always present yourself with dignity. Show him that you have self-esteem but that you are there to do what needs to be done. Be a team player.

Remember. Older men and women in the workplace are not that different than younger ones. And just as almost everyone expects a respectful attitude from his/her co-workers, so too, older people should be handled in the same way. Never underestimate the abilities of a senior person. Just look at Senator Joseph Lieberman. Over 70 and still going strong.