Bright Idea

Old school
In rural communities, a study shows money isn’t the only way to win over an aging labour force

Business owners in rural areas need to do more than respect their elders; they would be wise to cater their work schedules to them.

So says Gordon B. Cooke, an associate professor at Memorial University’s Faculty of Business Administration. Cooke’s opinions are shaped by a 2013 study he and two other academics conducted that looked at how rural residents in Newfoundland and Labrador and Ireland view work quality.

The study, entitled “The nuanced nature of work quality: Evidence from rural Newfoundland and Ireland”, is based on 88 interviews and found that for people living in these rural areas, many considered a good job to be one that allowed them to enjoy family and friends, hobbies and ample time off (unpaid, of course). “It’s a work to live, not a live to work philosophy,” Cooke says.

So what’s the implication of the study’s findings for business owners in rural communities? A key takeaway is that the majority of the labour available to them isn’t made up of 20 and 30-somethings looking to make big money and work 50 weeks a year. Instead, these rural areas are populated largely by people 40 years of age and older who still want to work, but just not as often as they once did. Cooke thinks business owners need to adapt work schedules to this reality.

“Shrewd business owners who want to attract, retain and energize staff should be looking at older workers and customizing work schedules,” Cooke says. “A business doesn’t have to offer a permanent, full-time job. That’s not what is going to entice these people. There are people 58 years old who are keen to work another 20 years if they could get six months off.”

That kind of flexibility might be more than many business owners are willing to provide their employees. But as rural communities get grayer in Atlantic Canada, Cooke thinks finding ways to employ the senior set on their terms could pay dividends for employers by giving them access to an underutilized source of human capital.

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