Older workers have long been thought of as more productive, loyal and customer friendly than their younger counterparts, but the over-50s may be even more cost effective than is generally believed, a U.S survey has suggested.
The report prepared by consultancy Towers Perrin and non-profit organisation AARP found that one of the most common complaints about older workers, that they cost more, simply does not stand up.
Its analysis concluded that the extra per-employee total compensation cost of retaining or attracting more workers over 50 ranged from "negligible" to three per cent in key industries.
At the same time, it found older workers were more motivated to exceed expectations on the job than younger workers.
Motivation, it argued, was highly correlated with engagement, and both engagement and motivation often increased with age.
There was also a strong relationship between employee engagement and financial performance, showing that companies with higher levels of employee engagement tended to outperform those with lower levels of engagement, the research found.
"These findings are especially important because the workforce is ageing, labour shortages are projected in a number of sectors, and many employees intend to continue to work beyond the retirement age," said AARP chief executive Bill Novelli.
"Keeping people in the workforce longer benefits the employee, the employer and society as a whole," he added.
"Enhancing retention or hiring of older workers can result in marginal differences in total cost for the talent pools studied, while experienced people can offer a distinct performance advantage in many key roles," added Towers Perrin principal Roselyn Feinsod.
Economic and demographic projections have suggested that, by 2012, nearly 20 per cent of the workforce will be aged 55 or older, a jump from under 13 per cent in 2000.
"The ageing of the population may put employers in a tight situation," conceded Alicia Munnell, director at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
"They will no longer be able to rely on a rapidly growing group of younger workers in the future. Increased employment of older workers seems like a natural solution, but employers will have to change their hiring and retention policies if they want to attract these highly productive older individuals," she added.