Let’s start a dialogue about fairness in the workplace for the active baby boomer!

When are we “too old” to be productive in the workplace?

“For employees at the Vita Needle Co., turning 70 or 80 or even 100 doesn’t mean a retirement party; it means a coffee break with a birthday cake – and then getting back to work…. “

Vita In The Boston Globe 3/31/2012, by Katie Johnston

There is a small company in central Massachusetts where the average age of the employees in 2015 was 73 years old!  The VITA Needle Factory in Needham, Massachusetts manufactures medical needles, tubing, and fabricated parts. The fifth-generation family-owned company has a workforce primarily composed of older employees.  Vita president Fred Hartman, whose great-grandfather started the business in 1932 (and retired at age 97), says, “Young workers in their 50s and 60s are our burgeoning farm team!  We don’t have old, we have experienced.”  “There’s a sense of pride in the senior citizens, in the work that they do here. Some may not work at a faster pace, but they will produce a quality product,” Hartman says.  The company employs 20 senior citizens part-time on the production floor. 

According to Fred Hartman, Vita’s Director of Marketing and Engineering, the 30-something son of the President (and fifth generation at VITA), “The older workers are loyal…They also feel pride that their finished product is often used in medical applications that can save someone’s life or make it better.”

In a 2010 interview, Vita employee Rosa Finnegan, 98.5 years old (and still working at 100 in 2013!), and Vita’s oldest worker said she never misses a day of work at Vita Needle. Finnegan says it is important for her to have a place to go when she wakes up, and she has found a community at her workplace.  Finnegan stamps hundreds of small metal parts that look like pencil erasers.  The exercise from her job helps keep her fingers reasonably nimble.  

Hartman says that it is true that older workers get sick just as their younger counterparts, however when they do get sick it is usually more serious than a cold and they will stay out of work for a longer period of time. So Vita does a lot of cross training.  The company also touts diversity of tasks and flexible scheduling to attack employees. If an employee becomes ill and has to take time off, they don’t worry about losing their job.  In 2011, after 79 years since its founding, Vita had never laid off a worker or forced any to retire.  In fact, according to Hartman, Vita’s health benefits costs are low because most of their employees are on Medicare.

So how did Vita Needle come to employing septuagenarians, octogenarians and nonagenarians?  In the 1980s and 1990s, Vita needed to expand, but there was a labor shortage. The only applicants were middle age and older retirees.  Management immediately recognized their work ethic, enthusiasm, and excellent results. For most of the employees, this is a second career.  At Vita age is considered an asset.  There is no mandatory retirement age.

So Vita has found the fountain of youth – respect, dedication, community, and fairness – with a little help from Medicare to cut costs.  

Think about best practices for leveraging older workers in your organization…

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