Tom Watson 1

It was two months before his sixtieth birthday. Nine months earlier he had surgery to replace one of his hips. A few months before that he was one of the commentators at the British Open, amazed by the play of Greg Norman who was among the leaders of the tournament at the ripe old age of 53.

The 2009 British Open was almost a storybook tale. 59-year-old Tom Watson forced a play-off for the victory. A five-time winner, he had not led a major tournament in 22 years. The ultimate victor, Stewart Clink, was just over half Watson’s age.

As he walked up the final fairway toward the last green of the day, Watson smiled and waved at the cheering crowd. The normally self-controlled Brits were unusually joyful and loud as they warmly embraced him. His face showed lines from thousands of days in the sun, and his eyes were moist from the emotions of the moment. Oddly the loudest applause was reserved for Watson, the second-place finisher.

Tom Watson’s amazing accomplishments eight years ago at Turnberry in Scotland reminds us that age and experience have value.

We live in a culture dominated by pop nonsense and media that tells us that what is new and hip is more valuable than what has true value. Our culture is fascinated with broken plastic heroes who become icons until they are canonized by premature, foolish and tragic early deaths. Our youth chase the latest fashion, the latest pop star, the latest internet social site, and the latest self-indulgence because they are bombarded every day with the message that these futile pursuits are meaningful and will increase their self-worth.

And, as our economy struggles and businesses look for cost savings, often older employees are targeted because of their higher compensation and the unspoken view that their value is less because they just don’t understand the new economy and the new world.

The view that older people have little to offer and that we should push them aside is one of the greatest tragedies of our times. Yet, it is never discussed as we seek ways to invigorate the economy.

I believe older men and women are one of the most under-utilized assets in the work place. Older workers bring many things to the table that are sorely needed in these challenging times:

  1. Older people have been through recessions with high unemployment and falling home prices in the 1970s and early 1980s. They remember when we had both a recession and high inflation. They can recall when you could not get a mortgage for a rate under 12% and therefore few people could buy a new home. Unlike the Ivy League educated fools on Wall Street, they know that business cycles are part of the way the economy works over the long term.
  2. Experienced employees bring a perspective and common sense that can only be gained by those who have graying hair and wrinkled faces. They can be a tremendous resource during these times to offer practical suggestions and solutions that you are unlikely to find on the pop business bookshelf at Borders or Amazon.
  3. Most of these workers bring a work ethic that is hard to find among many younger workers. They will show up on time and understand the need to sometimes rearrange personal priorities to meet their job demands. They understand, contrary to what pop culture teaches the young, that the world does not revolve around them and that hard work is the key to success.

If you have older experienced workers, make sure that you understand the value they bring to your organization. Find opportunities to leverage their experience to help your business grow and prosper.

If you are looking to fill an open position, consider applicants who are older. Even if they seem over-qualified and you think you cannot afford to hire them, talk to them and see if you can make something work. Many older members of the work force who are out of work understand that they may not be able to find the same kind of job that they held before.

If you can find a spot for one or two of these experienced people, you are likely to be as amazed at their performance as the world was with Tom Watson’s performance at Turnberry in Scotland a few years ago.