• Older workers strengthen the team

    Author(s): Tom S. Davis, DNAP, CRNA, MAE

    “We respect our elders. There is wisdom that comes from experience, and I am not going to stop learning from wise counsel.”
    —Marcia Fudge

    Our baby boomers are aging, our healthcare needs are increasing, and our shortage of nurses and other healthcare providers is expanding…an unhealthy situation.  Concurrently, many highly qualified healthcare providers who have reached retirement age are not quite ready to throw in the towel.  Keeping experienced, qualified people on the job adds depth and diversity to the team and reduces the shortfall of workers needed to meet the expanding demand for healthcare services.

    Arlene Donovan, contributor, confirms that seasoned workers add value to a workgroup. “They possess years of experience, have industry knowledge and are committed collaborators.”  In addition, many older workers have a calming and unifying attitude based on their ability to withstand the battle-scars of past achievement. Blending the wisdom and experience of older workers with the knowledge and enthusiasm of younger workers creates a diverse workgroup uniquely positioned to meet the challenges posed by the expanding patient population.

    Efforts to broaden the age range and retention in the workforce must go beyond making all capable workers welcome to remain.  It must include active recruiting to bring experienced people back into the workforce.  Many who have recently retired are having second thoughts and would welcome an opportunity to rejoin a team, even if part time, but feel too old to apply for a job.  Reaching out to mature workers opens the door for their return to the job., author, Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, highlights several characteristics of mature workers that make them valuable team members.

    • Problem solving  With decades of experience, veteran workers have overcome challenges and deadlines, have a network of connections in place, and know the most efficient way to bring a project to completion.  Along with adding insight, in stressful situations they have a calming influence that that generates confidence.
    • Perspective  Seasoned workers know that not every project is urgent and not every deadline is firm or realistic.  By drawing on experience, they are able to discern the difference and when to focus on urgent tasks prior to addressing other issues.
    • Knowledge  Older workers may not have the same knowledge base as younger workers who recently completed advanced degrees, but, as described in the March 24, 2019 blog, there is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom, and both are important.  Where older workers lack textbook knowledge, they win the prize for perceptive common sense.
    • Capacity to grow/learn. It is a myth that older workers are set in their way and resist change.  To the contrary, older workers have spent a lifetime implementing change and know how to do it.  Today’s workers who are in their 60s and 70s were the activists of the 1960s and 1970s who spearheaded the civil rights movement and attended Woodstock.  The hair may be gray, but the spirit remains.
    • Mentoring.  Older workers want to share their stories and ensure that those who follow in their footsteps have the benefit of their experience.  Older workers tend to be willing mentors who are eager to leave a legacy through the work of the next generation.

    Attracting older workers to apply for a position in your organization should not be a daunting task.  It is a myth that the long-serving people who join, or rejoin, your group will try to steal your leadership position or demand a higher level of pay.  Experience from the business community has revealed the opposite; older workers want to share their experience, but they do not want the responsibility of being the boss nor do they expect top dollar in the pay check.  Whereas younger workers are attracted to pay/benefits, school districts and flexible hours, older workers are working because they want to and are attracted by things that make them feel valued.   When recruiting older workers, appeal to the following:

    • Competitiveness Senior workers who wish to remain in the workforce have been the innovators of change throughout their careers and even though they are no longer leaders, their competitiveness remains.  Their desire to achieve will lift the performance of the team.
    • Wisdom The transfer of knowledge into action requires the judgment, foresight and prudence that older workers have accumulated over the span of a career.   Your elders know how to get the job done.
    • Place in life Mature workers are at a place in life where they are neither harried by the schedules of their children nor encumbered by leadership responsibilities.  Appeal to their needs by offering flexible work schedules that allow them to travel, visit their children and grandchildren or pursue the other activities that keep them in shape for continuing to work.
    • Flexibility Appreciate and place value on the flexibility that older workers offer the collective welfare of the team as they fill schedule positions that are difficult for younger workers who are raising young children. You’ll find that the grandparents on your team who have been there, done that, will help out where others cannot.

    Baby boomers ARE aging, and their health needs ARE changing; and, they bring balance to the ever-expanding need in health care.  Engage with the gray-haired and tie-dyed who still want to work and you’ll rediscover what, sooner or later, you will experience…decades of wisdom based on experience, a wonderfully collaborative spirit, and the dedicated dependability of those who truly want to help build the bridge to a healthy situation.

    Tom S. Davis, DNAP, CRNA, MAE, is the former Chief of the Division of Nurse Anesthesia at The Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and former Chief CRNA at (Baylor) Scott and White, Main OR in Temple, TX. Col. Davis, USAF (Ret.), is well-known throughout the Nurse Anesthesia community for his leadership in clinical anesthesia, including developing the first distance education model while on the graduate faculty at Kansas University Medical Center.   Recognized for his expertise in team-building across department lines, Tom is a sought-after speaker, educator, author, and leadership trainer. Follow @procrnatom on Twitter.