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Create an age-friendly work environment

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Bullying has been a topic in the news for a few years now. But bullying is rarely heard of among adults, and especially among older adults in the workplace.

In 2007, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 5,181 claims of age-based harassment. By 2011, that number increased approximately 19 percent to 6,406 claims. As workers continue employment past the traditional retirement age, age-based bullying has the potential to become a big problem.

By 2035, one in four Americans will be age 65 or older. In the last decade, the senior population increased by 15.1 percent, while the population in general only increased by 9.7 percent. This means there has been exponential growth among seniors across the nation. Locally, San Diego seniors represent 11.4 percent of the county’s total population, according to the Census Bureau. The rapid growth will continue as the nation’s baby boomers hit the traditional retirement age, but are not ready to fully retire.

As a result, employers will be forced to offer incentives, such as job sharing, bonuses, working from home, etc., to older employees to continue working. If seniors do not continue to work, we will not have enough people to sustain our economy.

With this in mind, I challenge San Diego employers to create an age-friendly working environment — one where taunts to older workers, such as “you should just retire,” “you are too old to work here” or “pick it up, old man,” are not tolerated.

Appreciate older workers for what they do bring to the table. Many companies we work with consider the older worker to be more dedicated, punctual, honest, detail-orientated, organized and have excellent communication skills. Also, older workers have an advantage in the workplace from years of life and work experiences, which make them less rattled when problems occur, and they are often able to transfer their knowledge and life lessons to other workers and enhance the level of maturity in the workplace.

Reduced labor costs are a huge benefit when hiring older workers. Many maybe be on Medicare or have an additional source of income and are willing to take a little less to get the job they want and remain engaged. They also may be at the point in their life where working for a company is more than just collecting a paycheck. They would rather have a job that they enjoy and one that appreciates them.

Many employers actually prefer hiring older adults. For example, the East Village/downtown Albertsons grocery store hires low-income seniors from our Potiker Family Senior Residence to greet customers as they come in. The manager has told me many times he prefers hiring older workers because of their commitment, honesty and pride in a job well-done. His customers enjoy their company and can always count on a smile.

Likewise, we utilize the Senior Community Service Employment Program, a federal older worker training program, and have hired graduates for our Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center. The program has been hugely successful, and these older workers bring value and commitment to the workplace and are extremely trainable.

This is why we need to take action, support older workers in the workplace and take a stand against age-based bullying. Each individual is valued, and all build upon shared values to achieve the organization’s mission. The reward of such cultures is improved organizational performance and individual motivational fulfillment.

Make a change in your workplace, and open your doors to all employees who can make a difference regardless of what their birth date is.

Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at servingseniors.org.

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