Older Workers Could be Key as Labor Market Improves, but Integrating Generations Needs Attention

Though some experts say her outlook is overly rosy, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told MSNBC March 8 that the labor market could be tight again as soon as 2022. “I’m anticipating, if all goes well, that our economy will be back to full employment—where we were before the pandemic—next year,” she said.

With full employment, recruiting employees becomes more difficult and workers have more choices. When that happens, retaining good people becomes increasingly difficult and turnover can act as a drag on department efficiencies and budgets because of rising wages and hiring and training costs.

Frontline Security Positions

Jill Davie

That prospect is a good reason for retailers to look toward older workers to fill frontline security positions and other loss prevention posts, according to security market labor data. Millennials comprise the greatest percentage of security officers, according to the US data, but retention rates are higher for Generation X and Boomer workers. Statistically, Boomers are 89 percent more likely to work an entire year than Millennials. “Boomers and Gen X are a better hire if retention is your goal,” said Jill Davie, president of TEAM Software, Inc., a provider of financial, operations, and workforce management software for security contractors.

Digital Partners

The company’s aggregated benchmark data from North America show that many security officers that accept a job offer never show up for their first day of work. Even more never make it to Day 60. The pandemic slowed this trend—as workers became more wary of testing the labor market—but it remains a troubling 44 percent and is likely to grow as the labor market improves.

One reason, say data analysts, is because it’s easier than ever to apply for jobs, so many candidates have put in dozens of applications to different companies. They accept the position, but then a better job comes through before the start date. Another: Many find the work isn’t what they expected and leave shortly after starting. Given the substantial expense involved in hiring, on-boarding, and training, it presents departments that hire security officers with a costly problem.

The interview process provides three ways to cut down on this type of turnover.

  1. Critically examine whether it’s practical for the job candidate do the job, such as their distance from the store and whether they have transportation.
  2. Be straightforward about the job and working conditions.
  3. Consider how you’re recruiting applicants.

As noted, older security workers are more likely to show up for Day 1 and be more likely to still be around 60 days and a year from now. Posting jobs on Facebook and other social media sites is a simple strategy to attract large numbers of applicants, but they tend to attract younger workers. If a loss prevention department wants to attract older security staff who tend to stay longer, they may need to think about strategies to specifically target those potential workers, said analysts.

Jeff Davis

Indeed, utilizing older workers will be “key to our workforces moving forward,” according to Jeff Davis, president of Kwantek, an applicant tracking solution, during a presentation with Davie at the 2020 GSX+ security conference. Two decades ago, 50 percent of workers expected to retire younger than age 65, compared to 29 percent of today’s workers.

The World Economic Forum sees the issue similarly. “There is a global myth that productivity declines as workers age,” the WEF wrote in January. “In fact, including older workers is an untapped source for growth.”

Many managers said they think there are advantages to hiring older security officers, as they tend to be more reliable, more ethical, and have better people skills than younger workers do. However, several expressed concerns, including a higher risk of workplace health episodes and a lack of familiarity with technology in a profession growing increasing technological. Loss prevention departments may need to provide specialized training to help older workers better understand new technologies and their uses in the workplace, say experts.

Potential for Problems

The look of loss prevention departments has been changing and that is going to accelerate in the years ahead, growing more racially diverse, less male-dominated, and consisting of more gray hairs. This demographic shift will bring challenges, including exaggerating cultural and age differences, but manage it well and departments will benefit greatly from expanding viewpoints and voices.

With respect to the generation gap, loss prevention departments might consider if they are doing enough to smooth operations as a 50-year age difference between security staff becomes more common.

An Urban Institute report on bridging the age divide in the security sector recommends creating mentoring programs, which can ensure institutional knowledge is passed down to younger employees and may help steer young staff toward the more trustworthy work ethic of older officers. Its advice is echoed in a study by the nonprofit Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, which noted that the negative perceptions that older workers have of younger workers can be a problem that mentoring may help ameliorate.

Experts warn that it is ill advised to try and mold young generations into work structures built for boomers. They tend to be motivated by different factors than employees of earlier generations, including the need for support, positive feedback, and working in a team environment. They may be quicker to express dissatisfaction with the mundane nature of entry-level jobs, less willing to work their way up through the ranks and have less employer loyalty.

To deal with it, experts at the Urban Institute and elsewhere suggest that security department leaders should explore ways in which they can invest in their younger employees to engender more loyalty and longer tenures—and warn that it may require some loosening of department policy. For example, certain prohibitions, like a policy against tattoos and body piercings, may need to be revisited. Hiring standards should be based on qualifications rather than physical appearance. Employers may also need to give a little on scheduling, as younger workers are more protective of maintaining a work-life balance than previous generations. Finally, top-down management styles tend to work well with boomers, but younger hires expect more collaboration and a need to see themselves as part of the larger retail organization.

Experts clearly believe that attending to communication issues is central to managing demographic diversity within a retail asset protection department. Because of it, first-line supervisors play a critical role, and LP leaders need to ensure that they have the training and confidence to handle the approaching demographic challenges they may face. Leaders must also frequently review with supervisors what issues, challenges, or problems they may be seeing from growing diversity among department personnel.

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