Dec. 21 2015

Age Smart Ceremony Celebrates Older Workers and the Companies They Work For

NYC Comptroller Highlights the Need for Workplace Flexibility at the 2016 Age Smart Employer Awards Ceremony

New York City elected officials honored local employers who invest in—and benefit from—older workers at a recent award ceremony. Winners of 2015 Age Smart Employer Awards, an initiative of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at the Mailman School, were announced at a December 9 event at the City Winery in SoHo.

One in five workers in New York City is age 55 or older, according to census figures. Yet the contributions of these older workers and the working conditions in which they thrive largely remain under the radar.

“Although we typically talk about attracting the next generation of employees we need to consider our aging workers,” said keynote speaker Scott Stringer, comptroller of the City of New York.

As the Age Smart Employer Awards make clear, hiring and retaining older employees is good for older people, good for employers, and good for society at large. But these dividends don’t accrue automatically. Stringer said employers must allow for flexible schedules—something he suggested will benefit more than just older employees. “Flexibility is the new way we will advance our economic agenda,” said Stringer. “This is how New York City will continue to be the center of the universe.”

Flexibility is the watchword of Brook Brothers at its Long Island City factory where the average employee is 54 years old. An article in the Wall Street Journal noted that the 2015 Age Smart winner gives workers—who sew neckties and alterations—the responsibility to manage their schedules so they can attend to personal business whether it’s a medical appointment or taking care of a family member.

Brooks Brothers factory supervisor Luis Nava said their older employees have an edge over their younger colleagues when it comes to energy and knowledge. “Retaining and fostering these employees translates into more productivity at the plant and makes sense from a business perspective,” he said.

Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, praised the Aging Center and the Age Smart Employer Awards for emphasizing the positive in older people. “It’s time to talk about what we can do rather than what we can’t do,” Brewer said.

Amy’s Bread—another of the new Age Smart winners—has an explicit focus on retaining older workers. Company founder Amy Scherber said her older workers brought stability to the bakery as it has grown. To retain this seasoned talent, her company restructures physically demanding jobs and uses older workers to train younger ones.

“Everyone here today has worked at Amy’s Bread for 10 to 20 years with an abundance of knowledge to share,” said Scherber. “Age Smart is the way ahead for the City of New York.”

Age Smart was conceived of by Ruth Finkelstein, associate director of the Columbia Aging Center, as a way of raising the profile of employers who encourage different generations to work side by side. “Older employees bring so much of themselves to the workplace,” says Finkelstein. “They give younger people a glimpse of what’s ahead, forging relationships that benefit young, and old, customers as well as managers.”

The 2015 honorees were chosen from among 52 applicants. Along with Amy’s Bread and Brooks Brothers, winners included Eneslow Pedorthic Enterprises, a Manhattan footwear company that allows workers to “dial up or dial down” hours as they near retirement; Metro Optics Eyewear, a Bronx ophthalmic services company with a culture of flexible work arrangements; NYU Langone Medical Center, where one-third of its staff is age 55 and over; and Sunnyside Community Services, which is committed to recruiting employees that reflect older adult population they serve.

Robert Schwartz of Eneslow Pedorthic Enterprises was applauded when he told the audience that he looked forward to a day when there was greater acknowledgement of the talent of older people. “There’s a 40 under 40 list and even a 20 under 20 list,” Schwartz said. “I’m waiting for a 70 over 70 list.”