Should I be employing older people?

Tradeshift CEO Christian Lanng explains why age is just a number when it comes to employing staff.

I love the fact our start-up is full of young, energetic staff. But should I be employing older people too?

This is a common question that I often hear and it’s definitely something that all small businesses should stop to consider, in terms of how this can have a real impact on the success of a business plan.

The typical profile of an entrepreneur is young, energetic, creative and almost pathologically driven. If you look at the entrepreneurs that regularly hit the pages of the media, you see the likes of Mark Zuckerman, Jay Bregman, Brian Chesky – all have barely turned 30 but are running multi-million/billion pound businesses, which they’ve dragged from a good idea to an outstanding and innovative business model.

In the world of the start-up, many entrepreneurs do tend to surround themselves with like-minded people of similar age, and it is easy to understand why. The ideas, vision and new ways of thinking that twenty-somethings offer are all essential in getting a small business up and running. There’s also no shortage of enthusiasm, drive and raring-to-go attitudes – extremely important attributes in the face of setbacks, which are par for the course for many companies just starting out.

Added to this, if you look at some of the newest and most successful businesses – Mind Candy, Songkick, Decoded – they all have digital at their heart. And it’s natural to associate digital expertise with those that are younger ‘generation I’, or simply those that have been immersed in social and digital since day one.

Often going hand-in-hand with the hiring of younger staff is the common perception that at a certain age, older people are no longer fit for the job. According to recent research, most British bosses actually think that once their employees hit their 50th birthdays, they are over the hill – defining this milestone as an ‘invisible tipping point’. So for those budding twenty-something employees, let this be a warning. Based on this attitude you’ve only got three decades worth of a ‘valuable’ working life ahead of you.

Obviously, this is a wholly-naïve thought process. It rules out the huge value of experienced staff. Not only do older employees have the expertise to carry out and implement the vision to make it a business a success, but they have been there, done that and know how to get over stumbling blocks. There is a big difference between creating an early vision and getting it off the ground, to building a technical structure and team, capable of scaling it up.

They also bring specific industry skills which younger employees just do not have yet. Take technology, which is a hotbed of start-up activity. While mobile and social have taken off massively in recent years, the coding languages they are built upon have been in existence for a long, long time.

Just look around you and you can see that the most innovative and effective start-ups are those that build on the energy of the new-guard and experience of the old. High profile examples are the likes of Google or Apple.

As long as you invest in employees who share your vision and have the skillset to match it, it really doesn’t matter what age they are. Small businesses should strike a balance – we sell to customers of all shapes and sizes and our businesses should reflect that.

Further reading on taking on staff

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Managing Staff

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