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Old and In the Way

Old and In the Way

/ Operations, Workforce Management, Remote Work, Operations
Old and In the Way

Baby boomers and work-from-home contact center models—it’s a win-win situation.

Old and in the way,

That’s what I heard them say.

They used to heed the words he said,

But that was yesterday.

I had a birthday in June, and it suddenly struck me that I’ve lived for a long time. I have had several friends who didn’t make it as long as I have. Some of them have been eulogized in this very column over the years. I think I’ve been pretty lucky. So far, so good.

Looking back, I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I do have one that I think about even to this day. I regret giving up banjo lessons back in the 1990s. I’ve always loved bluegrass music and the sound of the banjo in particular. I was living and working in Silicon Valley in the early 1990s and discovered a banjo teacher at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, Calif., so I signed up.

That teacher turned out to be multi-instrumentalist Jack Tuttle. He played and taught lessons on guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and bass. I don’t know how he managed to learn all those instruments. I guess he was just wired that way. In any case, I took lessons from him to learn how to play Scruggs-style five-string bluegrass banjo.

Talk about the apple not falling too far from the tree: Jack’s daughter is Molly Tuttle—a name familiar to many music aficionados. In 2017, Molly became the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Guitar Player of the Year award. She also won the same award in 2018 and has recorded or appeared on more than a dozen albums so far.

So, I took banjo lessons with Jack for a few years, then discovered martial arts and, regretfully, drifted away from music for several years. I’ve tried to pick up the banjo a few times since then, but banjo teachers are few and far between, and YouTube lessons just don’t work for me. I’m still old-school in that regard. I prefer interaction with a live teacher rather than a video. One thing I haven’t lost, though, is my love for hard-driving bluegrass music.

“Old & In the Way” is the self-titled first album of the bluegrass band of the same name. The album was recorded live on October 8, 1973, at The Boarding House in San Francisco and released in February 1975. The fact that there was ever a bluegrass concert in San Francisco is remarkable in and of itself, but there was a lot more that was remarkable about this bluegrass band.

Old & In the Way was led by banjo player Jerry Garcia. That’s right, music aficionados, that Jerry Garcia. Grateful Dead lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia. Old & In the Way was a side project for Jerry Garcia and a stellar group of bluegrass musicians. For several years, the “Old & In the Way” album was the best-selling bluegrass album of all time.

What is remarkable about Jerry Garcia’s banjo playing is that he was able to play Scruggs-style three-finger picking with his right hand. This style of banjo playing typically requires the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of the picking hand playing a variety of what are called rolls, which, when combined with chords played by the other hand, creates the Scruggs-style bluegrass sound. Jerry Garcia had no middle finger on his picking hand.

When Jerry was four years old, in 1947, he lost the finger in a wood-chopping accident. Being so young when he lost the digit, he was able to compensate as he grew up and eventually learned to play stringed instruments with a thumb, index finger and ring finger.

Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995. He was only 53 years old, and from what I’ve read, his drug addictions, weight problems, smoking and diabetes finally caught up with him. He was actually in rehab again when he had a heart attack and checked out for the last time. He remains a guitar hero among many boomers.

Gold will turn to gray

And youth will fade away.

They’ll never care about you,

Call you old and in the way.

The Social Security Administration estimates that about 10,000 people a day in the U.S. turn 65 years old. Of those 10,000 turning 65 each day, 5,900 leave the workforce within the year. In just nine years, by 2030, every boomer will be 65 years old or older.

In the contact center industry today, there are jobs going begging. Furloughed workers are choosing not to return to work in favor of government unemployment checks. Recruitment continues to be a challenge, as does turnover. Anyone see what I might be getting at here?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), adults between the ages of 65 and 74 spend an average of $45,885 per year. A recent retirement study conducted by the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies revealed that boomers have an average of $152,000 saved for retirement. What all this means is, there will be lots of boomers that will have to work at least part time in retirement.

Here’s what we know about the work habits of baby boomers:

  • They are known as the “workaholic” generation and are motivated by perks and prestige.
  • They are confident, independent and self-reliant.
  • They are dedicated and achievement-oriented.
  • They are competitive in the workplace and strive to win.
  • They are disciplined, focused and loyal.

So, why wouldn’t you want a boomer on your workforce, especially if you’re one of the 90% of contact centers today that support a work-from-home (WFH) workforce? By the way, that statistic came from Saddletree Research’s 2021 survey of contact center professionals, as did the following data.

One of the questions we asked on the survey had to do with the suitability of the different generations for remote work. The results are illustrated in the chart below.

Generational Compatibility with Remote Work
Source: Saddletree Research

OK, so boomers didn’t exactly run away with the “Very Well” category, but they sure shined in the “Fairly Well” category. Combined with the general work habits previously listed, a need on the part of many boomers to work after retirement, the contact center’s need for reliable, hard-working employees, and the contact center’s ability to offer a WFH arrangement with no expensive or time-consuming commute, I think what we might have here is what can best be described as a win-win situation.

Now the years have come and gone,

Through the streets he walks alone.

Like the old dog gone astray,

He’s just old and in the way.

Before writing off retired or retiring boomers as being old and in the way, consider the benefits of hiring members of this hard-working generation, even if they only work part time from home. I believe these old dogs can still learn a few new tricks.


Did you know columnist Paul Stockford is also the editor of In Queue, the monthly newsletter of the National Association of Call Centers? Get your free subscription and read more of his provocative commentary every month!

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Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford served as Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specialized in contact centers & customer service, from 1999-2022.
Twitter: @PaulStockford

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