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Older Employees Enhancing the Workplace

Darja Cocca loves working for New Frontiers in Prescott. She feels respected and appreciated by her fellow employees, to whom she refers as her work family. At 70 years old, Cocca could be the oldest worker at the store, but says she doesn’t feel any age discrimination.

Her appreciation for the positive work environment is echoed by Ron Samuelson, who works in produce at the store. At 64, he is also considered an older worker, but estimates half the workers in his department are at least 50 years old. He credits New Frontiers’s management with solid hiring practices, which keep turnover low and employee morale high.

More and more employers and managers seem to recognize the benefits of hiring older workers. Robert Coombs is visitor information manager with the Prescott Chamber of Commerce. He oversees 40 volunteers, most of them at least 55 years old. Even though the workers volunteer their time at the Prescott Visitor Information Center, they have a strong work ethic. “I’ve been in retail management for years and I have found [older workers] are much more dependable than a lot of paid employees are as far as being on time and being here when they’re supposed to be here and enjoying what they do,” said Coombs.

A recent AP-LifeGoesStrong poll found that nearly half the people born between 1946 and 1964 work for a younger boss. 60 percent of respondents say age is not an issue on the job; many said their employer gives them greater respect because of their age and coworkers often seek their counsel.

For Ron Samuelson, a retired fire service professional who has also worked in several other fields, his variety of life experiences helps him relate to customers. “I am able to talk to all types of people who come in to the store. I feel like I have something to offer to any of them.” Samuelson says he likes to keep busy and when he wasn’t working, he missed it.

Darja Cocca understands staying active and wearing many hats. In addition to working four full days each week at New Frontiers, she is a minister and officiates weddings as well as doing gardening jobs. “As long as you are healthy and have the energy to do it, it’s the most wonderful thing. You’re constantly learning and getting mental stimulation and physical stimulation, too,” added Cocca. Her job at the store has required her to learn some new computer skills, which she says has not been a problem.

One perception of older workers is that they struggle with the technological learning curve. The AP-LifeGoesStrong poll shows two-thirds of respondents say they are able to keep up with technology and stay current on developments in their fields. That is no surprise to Life Goes Strong Editor Ken Baron. “Boomers are actually a lot more tech-savvy than the general public might think,” he told Flagstaff Business News.  

Age translates to other benefits relating to some job tasks, reports Nancy Irwin, an author and doctor of clinical psychology. “While older workers may be slower, they are more thorough and actually make fewer mistakes than their younger coworkers. So, older workers are ideal in jobs where speed takes a backseat to accuracy,” reported Irwin.

In the AP-LifeGoes Strong poll, 14 percent classified getting older as a workplace liability. While that may be true for some career fields, life coach Beverly McAllister believes a good attitude prevails in most situations. At 80 years old, she helps homebound Flagstaff seniors get out of the house and become more active. Each day she reads her motto, which she keeps posted on her kitchen wall. “You don’t grow old, you get old by not growing.” McAllister does recognize she often works for three hours when she would prefer to work for six. “I can do less than what I could five years ago, but I get it done.”



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