Improving Customer Service

Issue # 39 of 70 

John T. Self, Ph.D.
By: Dr. John T. Self

Older Adults

What do think when an older adult comes in to apply for a service position?

Answer truthfully.


'Why is this person applying for an entry-level position?' 'Must not be able to make it in the real world.' 'Must not want any responsibility.' 'I wonder what's wrong?'

These are typical first reactions to hiring an older employee today. The truth is that those comments are unfounded, untrue and just plain cruel.

This resistance may just go the way of the 8-track cassette deck though; because the great engine of the economy needs more fuel and that fuel is employees. Employers are being forced to look beyond the usual 18-25 year-olds.

Remember Theory X and Theory Y? Theory X had the premise that employees did not want to work and Y that employees do want to work and work well.

Older workers are Theory Y all the way. They typically want to work. You read that correctly. They WANT to work. Think about it. What are some of the problems that you have with your younger workers? Have you heard any of these before?

  • I don't need to work.
Motivation suffers since they know the business next door will hire them at the drop of a hat.

Or these:

  • Big date coming up so I need to have the weekend off (party, beach trip, prom, fraternity/ sorority function, and the list goes on ad infinitum/ ad nauseum).
  • I don't feel too well. I can't go to work today. I've got to call in sick. (minor ailments, some imagined/some real).
  • My car broke down. I can't come in to work today.
  • One of my kids is sick and I have to stay home. I can't come to work today.
  • The babysitter didn't come. I can't come in to work today.
  • My alarm clock didn't wake me.
  • I had a fight with my boy/girlfriend and I lost. I can't come in to work today.
  • I have a major hangover. I can't come in to work today.

The reality for the vast majority of older workers is that they have the following attributes:

  • They want to come to work.
  • They want to belong to a group (like everyone)
  • They are loyal, they won't just quit after their first bad day.
  • They are most likely never going to call off for the weekend (party, beach trip, prom, fraternity/sorority function, etc., etc.).
  • They are past the majority of the crises of the young.
  • They probably won't have kids at home, let alone sick ones, to worry about.
  • They have both a strong work ethic and a strong sense of responsibility.
  • They can be great mentors and role models to your other employees.
  • They tend to be very reliable, thorough, and conscientious.

So what is the problem?
Need people?
Look to older workers. You won't be sorry. You'll be surprised. Pleasantly.

John T. Self is a lecturer at The Collins School of Hospitality Management at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly Pomona). Prior to entering academia, Dr. Self spent fifteen years in the restaurant industry. While in the corporate world, he worked for several chains including Chili's and Steak and Ale, and as vice president of a regional restaurant chain overseeing six restaurants with sales of over twenty million dollars. He has also owned three independent restaurants, including a comedy club.
Dr. Self has also been involved in the development of international hospitality programs. While at Golden Gate University, he started the partnership with Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China and is continuing in that involvement at Cal Poly.

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Text © Dr. John T. Self, 1997,1998. Part of the original Sideroad.