Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order by Peter Cappelli and Bill Novelli

A Book Corner Review

Managing the Older WorkerManaging the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order

By Peter Cappelli and Bill Novelli
Harvard Business Press, 2010

[powerpress: 2011/book_corner/Older_Atwater.mp3]

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3 stars: Valuable information and a good read

This book identifies important intergenerational issues and misconceptions about older workers. The authors start by defining older workers as Baby Boomers. Demographers, gerontologists, sociologists, and some practitioners would disagree with the use of such a simple definition. In 2008, Nokia, for example, defined older workers as anyone 38 years or older. There are, however, some things all can agree on. These include that people are working longer for a variety of reasons, retiring and un-retiring, starting their own businesses, working part-time instead of full-time, and volunteering. Growing life expectancy is one of the key reasons that so many older workers are actively engaged.

While Xerox, Pitney Bowes, CVS, Days Inns of America and other Fortune 100 companies are shown to have policies that support diversity and stress the value of older workers, many others are not on board. According to the authors there are a variety of misconceptions or myths that mask the true value of older workers and keep them from being hired, retained, and truly immersed in key business processes.

Among the myths are: older workers don’t want to work; older workers are more expensive than younger workers; there is no age discrimination; and older workers are less creative than younger workers. The authors address each of these and find them all to be untrue. According to the 2003 AARP Working in Retirement study, over two-thirds of older workers want to work to stay mentally active, have health care benefits, and earn money![1] A Sloan Management Review case study of Days Inns of America found that it cost $12,253 to employer younger workers versus $11,173 for older workers.[2] The big differences are training costs and incentive payments. The authors also make the case that older workers are discriminated against in hiring and retention. Young managers are singled out as the biggest offenders. Finally, older workers are said to have stronger existing networks, better interpersonal skills, better analytical and problem solving skills, and stronger loyalty and work ethics than younger workers.

The strength of the book is the series of provocative issues it raises. Practitioners can read it and decide if their businesses are positioned to better manage older workers and increase performance. Companies that are good candidates to benefit from older workers are: those that face workforce shortages, are in customer services, sell to older consumers, can change their business model to allow older workers to focus on quick turnaround problem solving situations, or are willing to offer flexible working schedule. Clearly one size does not fit all.

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[1] Staying Ahead of the Curve: The AARP Work and Career Study, national survey conducted by Roper ASW, September 2002,

[2] William McNaught and Michael C. Barth, “Are Older Workers ‘Good Buys’? A Case Study of Days Inns of America,” Sloan Management Review (Spring 1992): 56.

About the Author(s)

Donald M. Atwater, PhD, is a practitioner faculty of economics at the Graziadio School of Business and Management. Previously, he served as chief executive for a southern California technology company, the chief financial officer of an international, value-added software company, a principal in the human resources and compensation practice at William M. Mercer, and a director and co-founder of several start-up companies. He has created decision-support technologies and implemented them in a number of Fortune 100 companies, including AT&T, Intel, Dell Computer, Apple Computer, and Nestle USA. Dr. Atwater has also worked with many public organizations, including the U.S. Navy, the General Accounting Office, the state of California, and both the county and city of Los Angeles. His work has been published in the Monthly Labor Review and he has co-authored numerous papers. Today he owns and operates a company dedicated to building goal-driven communities.


Gary Tonkin

June 28, 2011 at 5:16 am

Thank you for sharing this book. One of the problems we find is that our “older workers” don’t necessarily understand the direction and needs of the company in the Social Media world. They are always against us taking new initiatives as that is not what they used to need but they don’t understand that these are the steps we need to take now.

Can’t wait to read it –
Gary Tonkin