sealPurdue News

November 2000

Hospitality industry wants retirees.
Seniors aren't so sure.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – When Congress repealed Social Security earnings limits this summer, it was good news for hotels and restaurants scrambling for employees as the American economy rolls along, bringing unemployment to new lows.

"The food and lodging industry is eager to bring seniors into the workplace," says Raphael R. Kavanaugh, professor and head of Purdue University's hospitality and tourism management department. There is more than 200 percent annual turnover among hourly employees in the food-service business, creating a management nightmare, particularly in a customer-service industry.

Kavanaugh and graduate student Doris Choy recently surveyed Indiana senior citizens on their attitudes about working in the hospitality industry.

"There is a perception problem among seniors about the industry," Kavanaugh says. "They don't believe the industry is willing to hire them."

Nor do the seniors have a positive view of hospitality, citing what they view as stressful, fast-paced working environments where regular, daytime schedules are hard to find. "They tend to view the work as all hard, physical labor," Kavanaugh says.

Kavanaugh says it is the hospitality industry's job to address misperceptions, particularly in a tight labor market that shows no sign of loosening.

How should the industry change seniors' perceptions? Kavanaugh's study suggests that in order to attract seniors, hospitality management should:

– Work through senior citizens' organizations and centers to make mature workers aware of job opportunities in food service and lodging.

– Increase seniors' awareness of the Social Security Earnings Test Elimination Act, which did away with the $1 tax Social Security recipients formerly paid on each $3 of earnings over $17,000.

– Offer senior citizens regular hours and part-time work, both of which seniors prefer. Consider providing transportation to and from work.

– Provide seniors with lower-stress jobs, such as hostesses in restaurants and telephone operators in hotels.

– Make workplace physical adjustments, such as better lighting and larger signage, to signal to seniors that management welcomes and values them.

The researchers conducted the survey of Indiana seniors by contacting Indiana senior citizens' agencies, which forwarded the survey to their members. There were 120 respondents out of 175 solicited.

Kavanaugh says that because of the small size of the sample and its being limited to Indiana, more research is needed for the mutual benefit of the hospitality industry and senior citizens.

"We now need to do research on employers' attitudes towards seniors as employees," he says.

In addition, the research on seniors' perceptions about the hospitality industry needs to be broken down into the differences between the different market segments within the food and lodging businesses, as well as specific jobs in each sector.

"If seniors have different perceptions about the food and lodging sectors as well as positions within those sectors, managers may need to use different techniques to attract seniors as employees."

Purdue's Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management is located administratively in Purdue's School of Consumer and Family Sciences. The department has 550 undergraduate majors and 50 graduate students.

Source: Raphael R. Kavanaugh, (765) 494-4643,

Writer: J. Michael Lillich, (765) 494-2077,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

* To the Purdue News and Photos Page