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Older workers and the road to (un)retirement

Despite layoffs and lost savings, some in the senior workforce find their jobs prospects are not all that gloomy.

By Marilyn gardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 30, 2009

Until last year, everyone in Georgette Pascale's communications firm in Pittsburgh was under the age of 38. Then she interviewed Deb Holliday, who is in her mid-50s, and hired her.

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"Her experience has been invaluable to everyone," says Ms. Pascale, the company president. "It's nice to get the other end of the age spectrum."

Score one for hiring and keeping employees over 50 – a pressing need as the ranks of older Americans grow.

The recession is squeezing the senior workforce on two sides. It has shriveled savings, forcing many older workers with jobs to postpone retirement. The contraction has also cut job openings, making it tougher for retirees wanting to reenter the workforce to do so. A nagging question hangs over them all: Are they being discriminated against because of their age? Age-discrimination complaints jumped 29 percent to a record level in the most recent fiscal year, the federal government reports.

But the outlook isn't all gloomy. Just as companies have long been recognized as great workplaces, some firms are working to become standouts for their treatment of mature workers – organizations including Sprint, Cornell University, and Jos. A. Bank.

"Employers are increasingly seeing the value of retaining and hiring older workers for the depth of experience they bring," says Patrick Rafter of, a career website for those over 50. That includes skills learned in their careers, higher loyalty, and lower turnover than younger workers. "We see this as a very favorable development, ultimately a sea change shift in the market," he says.

After Pascale hired Ms. Holliday as a project specialist, young staff members initially felt "some concern" about the age difference. So did Holliday. "This is the youngest climate I've worked in," she says. "Some of my colleagues are just out of college."

In her first days on the job, Holliday felt overwhelmed. "I wondered, 'Is this because of my age?' " she says. "But as soon as I caught on, age did not come into it again. Most negative thoughts about age were in my head, not my employer's."

Now, she adds, "I think my colleagues don't mind being around me, and I certainly enjoy being around them. I gain a lot from them, and hopefully my life experience helps them, too."

Similarly, Olga Gourianov, an innkeeper in Maine's mid-coast region, recently hired a woman in her mid-60s to work at the front desk. "We had tons of applicants," Ms. Gourianov says. "I chose her because of her previous experience. She told me, 'I will always be on time, and there will never be any drama with me.' That indicated a sincere work ethic. She's motivated and reliable. That's definitely a selling point."