Here is an interesting article that all entrepreneurs, particularly those under 40, should read: The Excruciating Decision of When to Bring in the Old People [http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20121206014819-162988-old-people?goback=%2Egde_52718_member_193436166]
When I think of how an experienced person can help a young company avoid the disasters born of naivete, I wonder why there is such a negative attitude toward working with older people.
First, let’s talk about the cost of benefits to an older person. My own health insurance, basic though it may be, is over $2,000 a month, and I am totally healthy with no past health problems! I can easily see why a young company doesn’t want to take on such expense when the cost of providing health insurance to someone under 50 is below $300 a month and gets less expensive as the age goes down. However, not all older people want to be hired on in any capacity other than contractor, which makes the cost of providing them benefits moot.
Then there is the implied parental factor. Is there a secret fear that anyone older will come into a company and start giving orders, lecturing and demanding like a parent? Such behavior happens at all ages. Some people have ego problems that require them to always be right. Other people can’t help micro-managing everything. Others complain about anything they encounter. In many cases, older workers have learned to get along in work situations, and don’t want to be your parents, anyway. The personality of the individual is the important factor, not age.
Lack of comfort with technology is the greatest crock of baloney I hear when talking with the under-30 set about the over-50 set. In fact, when I see pictures of my friends in technology articles, I often get a good laugh because I know the pictures are at least a decade old and the ages given are pure fiction! For every elderly Luddite you know, there are dozens of 50+ advanced tech users. Don’t fool yourself. Familiarity with technology is not age-specific.
Company culture is another element young managers worry about when thinking of bringing on older workers. I have seen examples of mixed age groups in several young companies and, from my experience, the older workers spend more time working and less time flirting, going to lunch and talking about their social life. This is not to say that all under-30s are non-productive employees, but hanging out with the in-crowd talking trash is not productive toward your company’s strategic goals. This brings up the question of why you hire the types of people you do. New entrepreneurs often struggle with insecurity, so duplicating their school social groups makes them feel more accepted. This is not leadership and usually results in a massive emotional disaster at the company when it comes time to fire your best office friend. Further, most of the older people available for work these days were part of the 1960s social change, the 1970s Women’s Liberation Movement and many have been questioning authority, keeping in shape and thinking outside the box ever since. You don’t have to look too far to find ‘mature cool’ these days.
Doing things the right way the first time is a great advantage to a young company. If you don’t feel you want to see a bunch of grey-hairs sitting at your computers, then consider giving a try to bringing on a contract Corporate Adviser for specific elements of your business.
When I go into a startup or young company, my job is to say “No!” but not unless I see a disaster about to happen. I make an effort to advise by encouraging the points of brilliance, the points of okay and the points of well-let’s-try-this-and-see-if-it-works. Only when I see something that I can prove is wrong do I step in and say “No!” The value in a company is often created by fresh eyes considering a problem. On the other hand, naivete also destroys many companies. Having experienced people around to spot growing problems is not only smart, it might make the difference between success and failure.